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Deal reached on homeless camps near freeways

LOS ANGELES — Almost 7,000 homeless people living in encampments near freeways, as well as homeless seniors over 65 and others vulnerable to COVID-19, will be brought indoors over the next 18 months under a joint legal agreement signed by the county and city of Los Angeles and approved June 18 by a federal judge.

Under the agreement, the city committed to provide 6,000 new beds within 10 months, plus an additional 700 beds over 18 months. The county, meanwhile, committed to investing $300 million over five years to fund essential services for the people occupying those beds.

“This agreement will lead to major action, not rhetoric,” said City Council President Nury Martinez. “The court has challenged us to do better, to do more and to do it quickly, and we need to meet that challenge. We are now positioned to dive into difficult but honest conversations with our county partners about future financial resources and obligations.”

U.S. District Judge David Carter last month appointed a mediator to oversee efforts to resolve the financial sticking point which had delayed settlement of a lawsuit accusing city and county governments of not doing enough to address the homeless problem in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A focus of the agreement are the thousands of indigent people camping within 500 feet of a freeway overpass, underpass or ramp. In mid-May, the judge ordered Los Angeles authorities to “humanely” relocate those people away from freeways and ramps because of the deadly hazards in those areas, including pollutants, passing cars and potential earthquakes.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti applauded the agreement, calling homelessness “the humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Through the agreement, “we will bring thousands more Angelenos indoors, deliver the services they need right now and further limit the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “This is an important milestone in our commitment to combating homelessness, along with our work to build thousands of units of permanent housing and increase city spending on homelessness to more than $600 million this year. 

“I want to thank my partners in the City Council and county Board of Supervisors for reaching this agreement and for pushing for more progress until every Angeleno is housed.”

The agreement encompasses not only people living near freeways but also the most vulnerable segment of the homeless population — those who are 65 years or older, or who have chronic underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of being hospitalized or dying if they contract COVID-19.

In approving the agreement between the county and city, Carter dropped his relocation order, which was to go into effect in September.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating Los Angeles’ homeless crisis, it is imperative that we marshal our county and city resources to bring our most vulnerable neighbors indoors as expeditiously as possible,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This is a new milestone in our partnership to ensure that everyone in Los Angeles has a life of dignity and worth.”

The agreement builds on the existing partnership between the city and county, which together housed 22,000 homeless people last year, based on the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count released last week.

The county and city have been housing more people every year since the passage of the county’s Measure H in 2017 and the city’s Prop. HHH in 2016, but they have also had to contend with the significant inflow of people becoming homeless for the first time due to economic pressures.

The agreement will also go hand-in-hand with the post-pandemic housing plan being developed by the county under motions by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl, as well as the Comprehensive Crisis Response to homelessness endorsed by the governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, co-chaired by Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

The agreement stems from a federal civil suit, filed in March by a group of downtown business owners and residents called the LA Alliance for Human Rights, alleging that the city and county of Los Angeles have failed to protect the public and provide adequate shelter for those living on the streets. Plaintiffs sought to have a judge set a mandate to establish homeless services and sleeping options.

“It won’t happen overnight, but the work begins now to vastly expand emergency services and give people a real alternative to living under the 101 Freeway,” said Councilman Bob Blumenfield. “Building on this agreement with the county, we need to be doubling our efforts to incentivize new housing, expand mental health and drug addiction services, and meet other critical needs to help people turn their lives around.”

Wave Wire Services