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Housing and Homelessness

Judge Again Rejects County Settlement In Major LA Homelessness Case, Wants More Beds And More Oversight

Unused shelter beds in Los Angeles.
Unused shelter beds in Los Angeles.
(Maya Sugarman
KPCC file photo)
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A judge rejected — for the second time — a proposed L.A. County settlement requiring new mental health and drug treatment beds for unhoused residents, saying a lot more beds are necessary and more court oversight is needed to make sure government officials follow through on their promises.

“Bare minimum” is how U.S. District Judge David O. Carter described the county’s offer to help people experiencing homelessness in L.A. during a hearing Thursday.

The proposal that was thrown out would have required 1,000 new beds over the next few years and money for another 450 people to get services at existing board and care facilities.

But Carter pointed to a 2019 county report finding 3,000 new mental health beds were needed to keep up with demand — a number that’s only grown since then, he said.

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“The county should have done this years ago without even coming before the federal court,” Carter said, adding that the county has the needed funds to take action.

“Don’t throw the lack of money at me from the county’s perspective,” the judge said, pointing to the county’s $40 billion-plus annual budget.

Carter also came down hard on what he said was an “implication” by the county that the promised beds wouldn’t happen unless he approved the settlement and ended the underlying lawsuit.

“Shame on you,” the judge said.

“You stop using that as a bargaining chip [of] human lives.”

Shame on you.
— U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, speaking to county officials

In response to LAist’s questions, a spokesperson said the county would honor its commitments in the proposed settlement deal, even though that’s not ending the case like they had hoped and the judge wants more.

“The county remains committed to the terms pledged in the settlement and expanding its resources to support people experiencing homelessness,” Jesus Ruiz, the county spokesperson, said in a statement.

The beds are eventually expected to be made available primarily for residents who live in the city of L.A.

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Click here to read the transcript of the court hearing.

“I’m disappointed,” Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn told LAist about the judge’s rejection.

“We were hoping he would see the progress,” she said, adding that she and other county leaders “feel a sense of urgency.”

She also noted county and L.A. city leaders like Mayor Karen Bass are now working together to address homelessness, after years of gridlock.

People on all sides of the civil rights case acknowledged that the challenge is not just a matter of money, but also in finding enough staff who are credentialed and willing to work with people who have severe mental illnesses.

L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian attended the hearing in downtown L.A. and called the county’s proposal “incremental.”

He told the judge their proposal “likely won’t even keep up with the increase in demand.”

But county lawyers said their plan called for “significant new resources.”

Back in November, Carter rejected an earlier deal that would have added 300 mental health beds.

How much oversight power should the judge have?

Another key sticking point for Carter was that, unlike the city’s settlement last year, the county’s proposed deal didn’t give him authority to closely monitor whether county officials follow through on their commitments.

“More money without any accountability,” he said of the county’s promises.

County officials disagreed, pointing to the quarterly reports they proposed.

The county is accountable to the public and to this court and to its constituents.
— Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing L.A. County

“The county is accountable to the public and to this court and to its constituents,” said Mira Hashmall, an attorney representing the county in the case.

“Never doubt” that the county will live up to these responsibilities, she told the judge.

Hahn told LAist she agreed with the judge’s oversight demand but didn’t have support on that from a majority of her colleagues on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who also attended the hearing, opposes more intensive oversight, saying county money that would be spent on the court’s special counsel monitor should instead go directly toward helping people without secure housing.

“Every single resource needs to be devoted” to helping people on the streets, not attorneys,” she told LAist.

Transparency concerns

Shayla Myers, an attorney representing advocacy groups for unhoused people, expressed concerns at the hearing about a lack of transparency in the case.

She cited closed-door meetings she said Carter had with city and county officials regarding key issues like enforcement of anti-camping laws.

Everyone “deserves a right and ability to” observe and participate in that process, Myers said.

“You cannot solve homelessness through litigation,” she added.

But, she said, it can be solved through “dramatic political leadership.”

What’s next?

The case now moves into a traditional lawsuit, with hearings in the coming weeks.

The judge said that means county officials could have to reveal internal records known as discovery, such as texts and emails among government officials.

The timeline for requiring the county to add more beds will depend on how the lawsuit proceeds.

But the judge noted the county could choose to provide the new beds even without a settlement in place.

Hahn says that work is already underway.

LAist news intern C.C. Clark contributed reporting to this story.

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