Appeals court stays judge’s order on downtown homeless

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court put a brief hold on a judge’s order that the city and county of Los Angeles must offer housing to the homeless population of Skid Row by the middle of October.

Attorneys for the county asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals two weeks ago for an emergency stay of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter’s April 20 housing order, arguing that the ruling is overly broad and causes more problems than it solves.

In its ruling, the appeals panel placed an administrative hold on the judge’s decree until June 15 in order to determine the impact of an evidentiary hearing scheduled later this month in the case.

Carter has scheduled back-to-back proceedings in downtown Los Angeles on May 26 and 27 to discuss possible modifications to his order, financial arrangements to pay for homeless housing and other issues.

The appellate court also asked for additional briefs from all parties, with the goal of a 9th Circuit hearing in July.

The county’s outside counsel, Skip Miller, applauded the panel’s decision to hit pause on the judge’s order.

We are pleased that the Court of Appeals granted a stay of the injunction until June 15 to, at minimum, allow for further briefing,” Miller said. “Stays of this nature are highly unusual. We look forward to a full briefing on the merits and, we hope, a ruling by the Ninth Circuit overturning the preliminary injunction. It’s contrary to law and, more importantly, it would disrupt the county’s on-going regional efforts with its partners to address this humanitarian crisis.”

Carter’s order set a timetable for offers of shelter to be made to about 2,000 homeless people living on the streets of Skid Row by October. The sprawling 50-block area contains one of the largest populations of indigent people in the nation.

The ruling is part of a lawsuit brought last year against the city and county by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a group made up of downtown business owners and Skid Row residents who argue that local government had mismanaged the homelessness crisis and wasted public money while the numbers of people living on the streets increases.

L.A. Alliance Chairman Don Steier said he hoped the 9th Circuit’s temporary stay will encourage the defendants to come together and work out their problems.

We are hopeful that with the stay only granted for a month, the city and county are motivated to come together anew to reach an agreement with us that would obviate the need for any type of court order — the urgency of the issues require no less,” Steier said. “It is far past time a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this crisis is established.”

During more than a dozen federal court hearings, the lawsuit has become bogged down in bureaucratic snarls between the city and county, prompting Carter to deploy the power of the federal court to speed up efforts to get city sidewalks cleared and place homeless people into housing.

Earlier this week, Carter rejected the county’s bid to be dismissed from the case altogether, finding that the county’s claims of immunity are inapplicable.”

L.A. Alliance lawyers have written that Skid Row is a “catastrophe created by the city and county” in which the city long ago adopted a policy of “physical containment” where the poor, disabled and mentally ill would be “contained” inside the delineated borders of downtown.

In response to the county’s initial request to stay his timetable, the judge reiterated his intention to keep the mandate in place and added new directives with an admonition that without a global settlement, his housing deadlines would remain in place.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas warned that the stay should not be interpreted as a lessening of the urgency needed to address the homelessness crisis.

What we don’t want to do is spend the next couple of years debating the merits of our homelessness response in a courtroom,” he said in a statement released May 13. “We need to resolve it on the streets — and we need to spend the next few weeks strengthening the partnership with our colleagues at the county — because at the end of the day, the only thing that will make a dent in this crisis is if both entities lean in and double down.”

Referring to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement of a $12 billion proposal to create affordable housing, increase mental health services and fund other programs to get people off the street, Ridley-Thomas said that the state gave us a lifeline earlier this week with unprecedented resources. We must match that level of commitment with unprecedented resolve.”

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