Judge ordered both sites to quit ‘wasting time’
Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — City and county officials announced Oct. 13 the end of a deadlock that held up plans to provide 6,700 beds and services for indigent people living under or near the region’s freeways while under the threat of the coronavirus.
An emergency meeting took place last week to attempt to unravel snarls that threatened a funding agreement that had been stymied for four months by what a Los Angeles federal judge called in-fighting and time-wasting.
The attempt to restore momentum took on increased urgency, with figures released by the county coroner that deaths on the streets are up 33% since last year, with 1,014 dead since January.
According to a binding term sheet released as part of a court filing, the city is responsible for creating 5,300 new beds by April and 700 additional new beds by December 2021 for a total of 6,000 new beds. The city also must provide an additional 700 beds by April that “may be beds previously captured in an agreement or plan between the city and county,” according to the county’s notice.
To assist in funding services for the 6,000 new beds, the county will pay the city up to $60 million per year for five years. The county will pay to the city a one-time bonus of $8 million if the 5,300 new bed target is reached within 10 months.
The first payment of $17.6 million to the city was made on Sept. 1 in compliance with the term sheet.
In ordering last week’s mediation conference, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. wrote that, with 80 days left before Christmas, “both governments need to act now. History should not be doomed to repeat itself here, and the court is committed to ensuring that the city and county work together” to finalize terms to begin bringing people off the streets.
The situation stems from a lawsuit brought by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, who accuse the city and county of dragging their feet in not doing enough to get the homeless off city streets and into housing — especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Birotte blasted city and county officials Oct. 8 for continuing to “bicker” and “waste time” instead of quickly finalizing an agreement to provide 6,700 beds for people experiencing homelessness under the threat of the coronavirus.
The court is “extremely disappointed” that in the nearly four months since the parties reached an agreement, plans to go forward are “riddled with unnecessarily rigid positions” suggesting “an unwillingness” to work together to address “a crisis of unprecedented magnitude in Los Angeles,” Birotte wrote in an order filed in Los Angeles federal court.
“While it should be unnecessary, the court feels compelled to remind the parties that the challenge of homelessness, and the parties’ decades-long inability to jointly address it, has plagued this region for more than 30 years,” Birotte wrote.
“If the parties are unable to reach agreement on this preliminary aspect of this litigation, it does not bode well for the nearly 60,000 experiencing homelessness [in the city and county].”
Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive of downtown’s Union Rescue Mission, was optimistic that the parties can and will work together to provide immediate shelter for thousands of homeless people.
“The pace of deaths is picking up at an extreme rate,” Bales told City News Service. “I hope for certain we’re going to get immediate practical housing.”
Quoting from numbers provided by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Bales said “deaths on the streets are up 33% since last year — 1,014 precious souls in first nine months” of this year.
Bales, who has attended hearings in the L.A. Alliance case and is involved behind the scenes in the process, said he and his team are “praying for the judge to make a courageous decision” and see that funding is moved to immediate shelter and services.