Settlement Talks Continue in L.A. Skid Row Homelessness Lawsuit

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Settlement talks are expected to continue today in a lawsuit seeking to house thousands of people in danger of contracting COVID-19 while living on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

The suit filed in March by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, accuses the city and county of Los Angeles of not doing enough to address the homeless problem downtown, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prompted by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter at a series of off-site federal court hearings, city and county officials have moved quickly to get as many people as possible off the streets.

At the previous hearing last week, the judge expressed strong support for Project Roomkey, in which the defendants and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority -- which is working with the city -- are contracting, operating and maintaining hotel and motel beds for “high-risk” homeless people.

Carter pronounced Roomkey “a success. It may be incremental. It may not be fast enough. You're not going to hear from this court a complaint this far about the speed.”

The Hotel Association of Los Angeles announced on the same day that more than 300 Los Angeles hotels have volunteered over 30,000 rooms to the L.A. County Department of Public Health and other agencies as temporary shelter to support the region's COVID-19 response.

It is expected that the court Wednesday will hear updated figures.

About 4,000 rooms are under contract, including more than 400 rooms at an unnamed large downtown hotel, to protect and isolate population segments vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak. An additional 2,500 rooms are working through the contracting process as the county ensures proper staffing of trained personnel, indemnification for properties and insurance and liability coverage, according to the association.

“L.A. hotels have stepped up across the board in unprecedented ways to support our L.A. community during this crisis,” Heather Rozman, executive director of HALA, said previously. “As various levels of government and supporting agencies are finally working together, the contracting process to get rooms online and vulnerable people housed is speeding up.”

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Attorneys for the defendants wrote in court papers that the county is “working vigorously to defend its right to administer Project Roomkey throughout the Los Angeles region” in light of objections from various cities.

A Superior Court judge last month granted a temporary restraining order preventing the city of Norwalk from applying an emergency moratorium to prohibit a 210-bed hotel from being used for the project.

“However, other cities have lodged objections ... affecting over 500 rooms,” defendants wrote. “The county is taking steps to strengthen its partnerships with cities that have or will support Project Roomkey to avoid disruptions in making hotel and motel rooms available to persons experiencing homelessness.”

Most urgently, some rooms are being repurposed for use by high-risk people, defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as those homeless over 65 years old or those who have certain underlying health conditions, including respiratory problems, compromised immunities, chronic disease, and who require emergency isolated shelter as a social distancing measure.

Attorneys also told the judge on May 7 of 24 emergency shelters now open at city Recreation and Parks centers with a total capacity of 1,019 beds. As of a recent filing, 909 beds were in use.

Another focus of settlement talks involves the availability of safe and legal overnight parking sites within the city of Los Angeles for those living in their cars or campers.

With 18 current safe parking sites within the city for a maximum of 406 vehicles, including cars, vans and RVs, the city has reviewed more than 300 parking lots owned by the city Department of Transportation, and several were identified for potential use as safe parking sites, city and county representatives said.

Over the past few months, Carter has managed to have dozens of new sanitation facilities installed in Skid Row, before turning to the problem of safe camper parking for those living in their vehicles in a 50-block area in downtown Los Angeles and other issues related to Project Roomkey.

Photo: Getty Images

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