LA must offer shelters to Skid Row residents by October, says federal judge. Can it be done?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Nihar Patel

A homeless encampment sits along Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Judge David Carter has ordered LA to offer shelters to people living on Skid Row by October 18, 2021. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

A federal judge has ordered the city and county of Los Angeles to offer shelters for people on Skid Row by October 18. That deadline is sooner — within 90 days — for women and children.

In a 110-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter criticized LA for focusing on permanent housing solutions “while people died on the streets.” He wants the city and county to focus instead on more immediate and temporary solutions. 

Carter also directed the city of LA to put $1 billion in escrow to fund his order. It’s roughly the same amount of money Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to spend this year on addressing homelessness in his budget proposal. 

LA County is appealing the judge’s ruling, and the city is exploring its legal options.

Figuring out what comes next is the task now for people who work on Skid Row, activists, and unhoused residents themselves.

Carter’s ruling comes at the heels of his visits to multiple encampments around the city, according to LA Times reporter Benjamin Oreskes. He says both the city and county are scratching their heads and are unsure how to make this court order a reality.

“The county so quickly deciding to appeal this is a real insight into where their head is at — that this is sort of unsatisfiable. … Their plan that they have put forward is where they want the most of their resources and time to be spent, not on what Judge Carter says.”

According to Skid Row community activist Jeff Page, the court ruling has helped bring awareness to the racial makeup of the unhoused residents in the region. He references a section in the court ruling that argues how homelessness disproportionately impacts Black Angelenos.

“It's absolutely jaw-dropping and eye-opening … there really is a correlation between whether it's redlining and gerrymandering and all these things that have plagued Black folks for generations. And then what we know now is that Skid Row is a majority African American, Black community, and it's been as such since the 1980s.”

After years of waiting for long-term supportive housing, Page says residents living on the streets are skeptical about the new order. He adds that if temporary housing is offered, residents aren’t going to take it. That’s partly due to the years it’s taken to build supportive housing for Angelenos.

“Even though it's called short-term housing, look at how many years it's taking for that to develop. Measure HHH — that was November 2016. We still haven't seen a significant amount of units come online. Where's this bridge housing? There were supposed to be shelters in every council district. How many years ago was that?”

Page references Project Roomkey, which was supposed to provide shelters for 90 days.

“Homelessness is much larger than a 90-day issue. You can't bring a knife to a gunfight, so why bring 90-days solutions to a long-term problem? It’s bad math.”

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