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City, county present plans to house homeless near freeways

LOS ANGELES — The city and county of Los Angeles presented plans to relocate and shelter thousands of homeless people living in encampments and tents on the streets and near freeways under the threat of the coronavirus May 20.

In papers filed in Los Angeles federal court, officials promised over the next 10 months to find or create short- and/or long-term housing for more than 6,000 people, including those living under and adjacent to freeways, and those currently staying in recreation centers and motel and hotel rooms throughout the region.

The responses were issued in light of a proposed federal court order last week compelling local governments to find a solution to the thousands of people currently living near freeway overpasses and underpasses in Los Angeles.

In his order, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter set the relocation process to begin May 22 unless an alternative plan was suggested.

In its nine-page proposal, the city and county prioritized two elements of the homeless population: those residing in the city’s COVID-19 emergency shelters — recreation centers and city-funded Project Roomkey rooms — and people who have taken shelter under freeway overpasses and underpasses, and near entrance and exit ramps.

“Each group is vulnerable in its own way, and each deserves urgent action,” attorneys wrote.

Contingent upon each shelter location receiving county-funded support and operating services, the city said it “commits to creating 6,100 new shelter opportunities in the next 10 months.”

Operating services would include specially trained staff dedicated to managing the facilities, case managers who work with clients to access housing and other benefits, on-site security services, and program enrollments.

“These operating services are in addition to the ‘mainstream’ systems of care [mental health, health care, substance abuse and others] provided by the county, which are also necessary — but not sufficient — to successfully operate the shelter opportunities the city is committed to creating,” the proposal said.

Officials detailed three pilot projects, including the deployment of hygiene facilities near 16th Street and Maple Avenue near the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, where a group of people are living under a freeway; a modular housing, or pallet, program, providing shelter for up to 100 persons, expected to open within 10 weeks; and an safe parking program for recreational vehicles that allows safe 24-hour parking in a designated area exclusively for campers and is expected to open within four weeks, according to the document.

The city estimates that capital costs for housing interventions for the 3,100 people living near freeways will range from $100 million to $130 million, and would be carried by the city, subject to approval of the City Council.

The ongoing operating and service commitments needed to sustain the interventions and keep people off the streets “come with a substantial cost,” one that must be shared between the city, the county, and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, according to the filing.

Among the freeway encampments referenced in the documents is a 40-person camp located adjacent to the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway near the San Gabriel River near the city of Industry and another camp of over 30 people located near the Santa Monica Freeway at 16th and Wall streets south of downtown.

The filings are part of settlement talks in a lawsuit 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, which 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.

In its four-page response to the city and county filings, the plaintiffs applauded the city and county’s efforts, but indicated the alternative plan does not address the potential need for forced relocation.The L.A. Alliance wrote that although “voluntarily moving into alternative options” would be the ideal, “the county has an obligation to ensure those locations are ultimately cleared of human habitation.”

Wave Wire Services