LA Officials Submit Plans For Relocation Of Homeless Away From Freeways

Tents above the 101 Freeway in Downtown Los Angeles. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

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Both the city and county of Los Angeles have submitted preliminary plans to a federal judge who has ordered the "humane relocation" of thousands of homeless people currently living beneath L.A.'s countless freeway overpasses.

As part of the order, homeless encampment residents must be offered some form of shelter before any action can be taken.

Though the plans are hardly set in stone, court documents outline a rapid expansion of safe parking sites, thousands of modular "pallet shelter" tiny homes, and another option called "Safe Sleep," modeled after a pilot government-sanctioned campsite at the West Los Angeles VA.

In their plans, officials are also including residents who have been moved inside due to the pandemic. For both groups, they'll try to place people into supportive housing, reunite them with family, provide rental assistance, and extend some hotel leases beyond the initial three-month contract.

"In all, the City commits to creating 6,100 new shelter opportunities in the next 10 months," reads the city of Los Angeles' report to federal Judge David Carter. The city says it will do that in two phases: first for people currently in hotels and recreation centers, then for people beneath freeways.

The report supplied by Los Angeles County outlines a schedule for moving forward, though notes there are likely only about 200 to 350 people beneath freeways in the county's unincorporated jurisdiction.

The county says it aims to provide Judge Carter with a list of potential locations for safe parking and sleeping pilot sites by May 21, and operation protocols for the safe parking and sleeping sites by May 27.

A BOLD ORDER

Last week, Judge Carter dropped a bombshell court order that compels both the city and county of Los Angeles to find shelter for those who've made freeway bridges and ramps their home. Citing the coronavirus pandemic and the adverse respiratory effects of living close to freeway pollution, Judge Carter ordered "that this subset of individuals experiencing homelessness be relocated away from freeway overpasses, underpasses, and ramps."

The order stunned many on all sides of the homelessness crisis. Its demands come on top of attempts to shelter thousands of people in recreation centers and hotels because of the coronavirus pandemic.


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RELOCATION, BUT NOT RIGHT AWAY

However, the wording of the order does not mean that the moment it becomes effective, L.A. will send cops to clear out underpass encampments. It lists several preconditions before that could happen.

Among others, anyone living beneath an overpass must be offered an alternative space in a shelter or other accommodation before being ordered to leave, and that offer must be given with advance notice.

The order also stipulates that any shelter or accommodation must come with access to health services, security, and hygiene facilities.

It's likely an attempt to compromise in the wake of a 2019 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case Martin V. Boise. Judges ruled in that case that cities cannot prosecute homeless people for sitting or sleeping on public property if there isn't anywhere else to go.

Carter, for his part, has expressed publicly that he's more interested in just getting the ball rolling on bringing people indoors, and restoring the use of public space, after what seems like years of nonmovement. Speaking last year at an event in Anaheim, Carter offered some clarity on his logic.

"Our public is not going to stand for homeless people taking our parks, or our beaches, or our libraries. But also, our public is not going to stand for the truly homeless person, who has either mental disease or just is homeless because of circumstances, being incarcerated. And that's a tough balance," he said.

A tentative balance has been struck in nearly 20 cities in L.A. and Orange counties with a settlement agreement brokered by Carter. In that judicial consent decree, cities agree to add more homeless shelter beds in exchange for court permission to enforce anti-camping laws. It's possible a similar agreement could be reached by both the city and county of Los Angeles.

DISAGREEMENTS ALREADY

The two plans filed separately in the court could have been filed as one joint plan had the city and county of Los Angeles not disagreed about who is going to pay for the provision of services for people relocated from under freeways. If they'd agreed, Carter would have presided over a hearing on Wednesday to broker the details.

That hearing didn't happen.

In its report to Judge Carter, L.A. County said the city of L.A. declined "to participate in the joint filing, stating that [the city of L.A.] could not agree out of a concern over the payment for 'services' at city-owned interim shelters and similar sites."

The county's filing said that the city requested services at any potential shelter sites be paid for using money from the Measure H sales tax. Measure H funds homeless services countywide, and is projected to generate less revenue in the near future due to the economic recession, according to county officials.

By contrast, the city's filing estimates that sheltering people who live near freeways will cost approximately $100 to $130 million in capital costs. As for providing supportive services for those people, the filing says "ongoing operating and service commitments needed to sustain these interventions and keep people off the streets come with a substantial cost, one that must be shared between the city, the county, and LAHSA."

READ THE ENTIRE COURT ORDER BELOW: