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Judge Looking At Expanding Garcetti's Emergency Shelter Plan

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Homeless tents on Skid Row. (James Bernal for KPCC)
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A federal judge is interested in expanding Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to use city recreation centers as shelters for the homeless -- by using public park space around the centers as de facto safe-camping zones for homeless people.

That’s according to Matthew Umhofer, an attorney for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that claims the city and county of Los Angeles have been negligent in handling the homelessness crisis.

Umhofer tells us that presiding Judge David Carter gave a powerpoint presentation in court on Thursday that showed off the new rec center shelters being made available to the homeless under the COVID-19 prevention plan Garcetti announced last week. The presentation also highlighted public space around the rec centers, including parks, he said.

The judge is considering using the rec centers as “epicenters of services” that would provide food, water and bathrooms not only for people in the shelters, but for others allowed to camp in the surrounding open space, Umhofer said.

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The idea was first floated by lawyers representing anti-poverty advocacy groups that intervened in the case, LA CAN and the L.A. Catholic Worker.

“[Carter] was putting a lot of focus and energy around how soon we can get these kinds of adjacent public park-like spaces available for the homeless to shelter in there rather than in encampments on city streets,” Umhofer said. “The judge was very focused on trying to get to a point where we can make these spaces available, whether people bring their own tents, or whether people shelter in tents provided by the government.”

We reached out to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's office for comment. A spokesman responded: "There is always room for more creativity, but nothing is more urgent right now than focusing our resources on bringing people inside, and doing what we know can save lives.”

Several of the rec center shelters have opened, increasing the region’s shelter capacity by about 500 beds.