Los Angeles County to settle lawsuit over homelessness crisis

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County leaders announced a lawsuit settlement agreement Monday that commits hundreds of millions of dollars to expand outreach and support services for homeless residents, marking the potential end of two years of litigation over the crisis of people living on the streets.

The agreement places LA County, operator of the local public health system, in direct partnership with the City of Los Angeles, which has pledged to house thousands of homeless residents as part of its settlement under the lawsuit concluded earlier this year.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition that includes businesses, residents, landlords, homeless people and others who allege the city and county’s inaction has created a dangerous environment.

The homeless population was once largely confined to downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row, but encampments have spread widely, including near City Hall and the Administration Hall, where the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the county will commit an estimated $236 million in new funding to address homelessness through 2027, with a focus on expanding street outreach teams to ensure that people who need help get it. That’s on top of more than $530 million in homelessness funding created by a voter-approved sales tax in 2017.

Mitchell said the new money will also go towards a “comprehensive suite of services” for eligible residents of the 10,200 permanent homes and 3,100 interim housing beds the City of Los Angeles has pledged to build as part of of his agreement. Services will include case management, medical and mental health support, benefits advocacy, family reunification, child care and addiction treatment.

“I can’t stress enough how this adds to our toolkit to stem the tidal wave of homeless people,” Mitchell said at a news conference with city and county officials.

Alliance attorney Matthew Umhofer said the “monumental” settlement seals the deal with the city by securing county support.

“But more importantly, this agreement provides something that has been desperately missing on this issue for decades: real accountability in the form of oversight over the next five years by a federal judge,” he said. The county’s settlement requires the approval of U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing the case and will oversee the settlement’s implementation through 2027.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledged there had been a collective failure to properly address the crisis at the local level. He said the new partnership is a step toward “putting a game plan on paper for how we can continue to walk toward our ultimate goal of ending homelessness.”

The city said it would spend about $3 billion over five years to build the new homes. But the exact pledge will be based on the results of the 2022 point-in-time homeless count released last week. In February, there were more than 69,100 homeless people in Los Angeles County, including about 42,000 within the Los Angeles city limits.

Last year, Carter issued an order that would have required the city and county to provide shelter to all homeless people on Skid Row within six months.

An appeals court overturned the order on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring most of the claims. The alliance then filed an amended complaint.

Under the city’s agreement, announced in April and approved by the judge in June, Los Angeles will create shelter or housing for 60% of the city’s homeless people who do not suffer from serious mental illness, substance abuse or chronic physical illness.

The city, which does not have its own health department, had argued that the county was obligated to provide services and housing for people with these issues, but failed.