LA settles homelessness suit, plans to build 16,000 units of housing

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The city of Los Angeles reached a historic settlement Friday to address homelessness.

The city will spend up to $3 billion over the next five years to develop as many as 16,000 beds or housing units for the homeless, enough to accommodate 60% of the homeless population in each of the 15 City Council districts, under terms of a settlement of a long-running lawsuit demanding solutions to the crisis.

The suit demanded the government find shelter for thousands of people camping on sidewalks or near freeways. It was filed by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, a group of small-business owners, residents, social-service providers, homeless and formerly homeless that all want to find solutions to end homelessness in L.A.

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The group formed in 2019 in order to pursue this lawsuit which requires the county to take responsibility for their legal obligations and maintain a safe and healthy environment for everyone.

The settlement with the LA Alliance for Human Rights does not include Los Angeles County, which is also a defendant in the lawsuit, but city officials said the county will be responsible for providing services and housing for homeless individuals with serious mental illness, substance-use issues or chronic physical illnesses.

LA Alliance attorney Elizabeth Mitchell said Friday the county has "refused to participate in this settlement. We will not stop working to hold the county accountable. This crisis is too big for any one branch of government. The county is not getting out of its obligations.''

City leaders said the county must provide services for that segment of the homeless population, since it has the medical and social-work facilities to do so -- while the city does not.

According to the most recent homeless count, conducted prior to the pandemic in 2020, the countywide homeless population was 66,433, a nearly 13% increase from the previous year. The city of Los Angeles homeless population was 36,165, up 14% from the prior year.

City officials estimate that meeting the terms of the settlement will require the addition of 14,000 to 16,000 beds, costing between $2.4 billion and $3 billion. A large portion of those required units are believed to be already in the planning stages with funding from the voter-approved 2016 Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund homelessness solutions.

City officials said the settlement has already been OK'd by U.S. District Judge David Carter, who has been overseeing the lawsuit.

L.A. separately announced it will review how effectively healthcare services are delivered to unhoused people under the city's contract with Los Angeles County, as called for in a motion that passed Friday by the Los Angeles City Council.

The motion was introduced by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who said that when he was chair of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee he saw "firsthand, how our contractual relationship with the county for public health and mental health service delivery is outdated and drastically in need of an update.''

"When I say outdated, I meant it. The contract is literally from 1964. It's one-sided and profoundly out of step with our city's needs,'' O'Farrell added.

The motion instructs the city administrative officer and chief legislative analyst to report back on the city's contractual relationship with Los Angeles County, the delivery of health services in its existing contract and specific recommendations on how to improve the current system.

The motion Friday seeks specific recommendations on renegotiating the contract to better serve the city's residents, with a focus on its unhoused population. The CAO and CLA will also develop recommendations for a city position or office responsible for monitoring and evaluating the county's health programs.

O'Farrell said the motion will result in better oversight of L.A. County's programs for the city. He said the current contract does not include any benchmarks, metrics or requirements of reports specific to the city of L.A.

Councilman Kevin de León, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee and seconded the motion, said in a statement when it was introduced last year:

"What we have learned from the tragic humanitarian crisis of homelessness and the inadequate response to the pandemic is that our public health system is broken, especially for the most vulnerable Angelenos," De León said. "Despite not having a public health department, our city has a responsibility to ensure Angelenos have public health services that meet the growing and unfilled needs now facing us. This is a step in that direction.''

The county recently withdrew from settlement talks. Last month, supervisor Kathryn Barger said she hoped the city and county would agree to a commitment which includes a combination of services and housing options with appropriate enforcement.

There have been a few recent cleanup efforts, notably in Little Tokyo. Advocates have protested, saying there needs to be places for these people to go. Though, people have not completely accepted the housing that has been offered to them.

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Overnight Friday, the large homeless encampment at Toriumi Plaza in Little Tokyo was cleared, cleaned up, and fenced up ahead of a large city maintenance and landscaping job.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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