Christopher Weber, Associated Press
A fed up federal judge in California has said last week’s rain storm created “extraordinarily harsh” conditions for homeless residents of Los Angeles and ordered city officials to meet with him this week at a Skid Row shelter to discuss how to address the worsening crisis of people living on the streets.
“These conditions cannot be allowed to continue!” U.S. District Judge David Carter wrote in a harshly-worded order on Sunday. The action involves a lawsuit filed last March by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, which accused officials in greater Los Angeles of failing to comprehensively address the homelessness problem.
Carter calls out the city for making promises but ultimately doing “nothing substantial” to address the “appalling and dangerous” situation facing people living on Skid Row, the notorious epicenter of homelessness in downtown LA.
“The storms last week, and the lack of preparation, seems to have pushed Judge Carter over the top,” said Daniel Conway, a policy advisor for the alliance, a coalition of service providers, small-business owners, residents and community leaders.
Representatives for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Kevin de Leon, whose district includes Skid Row, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
During a visit to Skid Row on Friday, Carter witnessed the impact of the wet, cold weather on homeless residents, “particularly elderly women and victims of mental illness, at least one of whom was naked and suffering from hypothermia,” he wrote.
Andy Bales, the CEO of Union Rescue Mission who was with the judge during the tour, said what they saw was “despicable.”
“These ladies were suffering out there in the rain, in the cold. Some didn’t have shoes,” Bales said Monday.
Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring mental health and substance abuse issues among those living on the streets, the judge compared homelessness in the region to “a significant natural disaster in Southern California with no end in sight.”
A January 2020 count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there were more than 66,400 homeless people living in Los Angeles County — by far the largest single concentration in the state. That included more than 41,000 within the city limits. Both figures were up more than 12% from the previous year.
Carter noted that 1,383 homeless people died in the city and county of Los Angeles last year, a 32% increase from 2019.
The judge slammed local officials for their “apparent abdication of responsibility” to keep the streets safe, adding that the court “cannot allow the paralysis of the political process” to continue to endanger lives.
The meeting Carter called Thursday at the Downtown Women’s Center will address whether the court should deploy “any and all equitable remedies” to address the crisis, he wrote.
Conway said possible remedies include a consent decree, which would effectively end the lawsuit with a settlement giving the judge ultimate power to order the city and county to build shelters and provide services.
“There’s a real possibility that Los Angeles’ new Homeless Czar could be a federal judge,” Conway said.
Bales said he hopes Carter will use the full power of the court to address the crisis.
“Absolutely he should act,” he said. “We need immediate shelter and safety. And politicians aren’t getting the job done.”