LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Possible immediate solutions to the Skid Row homeless crisis in light of the worsening coronavirus pandemic are expected to be discussed at a federal court hearing today in downtown Los Angeles.
Specifics on what is being considered were not immediately known because U.S. District Judge David Carter barred news media representatives and members of the general public from a hearing in the case earlier this week at the Alexandria Ballrooms because of what he described in an order as the “epidemiological dangers of the escalating COVID-19 crisis and the confidential nature of settlement discussions.”
In an order issued Tuesday -- which allows two members of the media to attend Thursday's hearing -- Carter wrote that the court “requests and encourages” the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to continue joint effort to establish procedures for the placement of homeless persons in “appropriate shelter facilities” in Los Angeles, contract cities and unincorporated areas of the county.
The lawsuit, brought by the L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row- area business owners, formerly homeless, and disabled city dwellers, attempts to find solutions to the problem of thousands of people living in tents, cars and on the streets throughout the downtown area.
“Let's get folks in shelters as quickly as possible,” Carter said last week during what he called a “big tent” meeting.
In a court filing Monday, defendants said the city had expanded its shelter program, opening eight shelters, with a current total of 366 beds, each placed 6 feet apart.
As for a modular housing proposal demonstrated at a hearing last week, the city is looking at whether it is a feasible solution under state and local building and fire codes, the filing states.
Los Angeles County officials have reached out to a broker controlling 2,000 potential motel/hotel beds and is negotiating the procurement of all available beds, according to the filing.
The complaint cites 58,936 homeless people in Los Angeles County, including 36,300 in Los Angeles -- an increase of 12% and 16% from the prior year, respectively.
“Some 75% of these are unsheltered persons who lack regular access to basic hygiene care such as toilets, running water to wash hands, showers, sinks, kitchen, laundry which has led to filthy (and unhealthy) conditions,” according to the L.A. Alliance.
“Los Angeles bears the dishonorable distinction of hosting the largest unsheltered population in the country.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday that his department has released about 1,700 “nonviolent” inmates from the county jail system to relieve overcrowding amid the pandemic. Villanueva added that a substantial number of those people are now likely homeless.
Thursday's hearing will again take place at the Alexandria Ballrooms, a historic downtown venue that's hosted a variety of events, including a wedding of silent film star Charlie Chaplin.
The space was apparently chosen for the size of its grand ballrooms, so participants will have space to follow social distancing guidelines.