Plaintiffs in Homelessness Suit Amend Complaint Against LA City/County

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to force the county and city of Los Angeles to find shelter for the thousands of people camping on sidewalks and near freeways have filed a proposed updated complaint after a federal appeals court gutted the previous effort, documents obtained today show.

The L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, an association of downtown residents, homeless individuals and property owners, added plaintiffs to the amended complaint, and described what it contends is the history of housing failures and systemic racism, which exacerbated the homelessness crisis. The suit updates equal protection claims -- an area in the original suit that in September led the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a judge's ruling favoring the plaintiffs.

The revised 116-page suit, filed late Friday in Los Angeles federal court, alleges decades of inactivity, missed opportunities, structural racism and fiscal waste on the part of the city and county, resulted in the current crisis in which the local population of people experiencing homelessness has nearly doubled in the past nine years.

“The only way to address this crisis with the urgency it deserves is an emergency response -- providing immediate shelter for all, increasing necessary outreach, services, and treatment, and abating the degradation of our cities and communities, for the good of everyone,” the suit states.

In his sweeping order in April, U.S. District Judge David Carter set a 180-day timetable for local government to offer shelter to every unhoused person on downtown's Skid Row.

The order was based on the court's finding of structural racism in the city's history of discriminatory lending, redlining, unequal access to affordable housing, and other past mistreatment and its disproportionate impact on the Black community.

City officials appealed, although the defendants did not dispute the premise that structural racism is a cause of homelessness on Skid Row. Instead, the city claimed Carter issued an overly broad order and abused the court's discretion.

The appellate court agreed, finding none of the plaintiffs' claims alleged racial discrimination and that the district court's order was largely based on claims and theories not argued in the complaint.

Carter had “impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence,” according to the appellate opinion. The panel vacated Carter's order that housing to downtown's homeless population must be offered by the middle of October.

The L.A. Alliance filed suit in federal court in March 2020, but litigation was almost immediately put on hold for nearly a year to explore settlement. From April to September, the parties waited on a ruling from the Ninth Circuit on the judge's preliminary injunction.

“As a result, this case has only been active for less than three months and no discovery has begun,” plaintiffs wrote.

A hearing is set for Nov. 29 in downtown Los Angeles to discuss the revised complaint.

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