Settlement Talks Continue in Los Angeles Skid Row Homelessness Lawsuit

Homeless in Los Angeles
Homeless in Los Angeles

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.”

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.