Coronavirus Crisis: Judge turns to safe RV parking for Skid Row homeless

(Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

A federal judge whose close attention to the lack of working sanitation facilities on Skid Row in response to the coronavirus threat resulted in the quick installation of dozens of new toilets and sinks is expected to focus Tuesday on the scarcity of safe parking for the homeless living downtown in campers.

U.S. District Judge David Carter has asked attorneys for the city of Los Angeles and county -- participants in a lawsuit involving homelessness on Skid Row and the spread of COVID-19 -- to discuss designated areas for recreational vehicle parking in the 50-block area and present possible options at a hearing Tuesday.

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"If the parties wish to present a more comprehensive plan covering more of Los Angeles city and county, they are welcome to do so,'' the judge wrote in an order filed over the weekend. "While the court will begin settlement discussions with a focus on Skid Row and the surrounding area, the court intends to quickly broaden the scope of these discussions to encompass more of the city and county."

According to a filing by the Orange County Catholic Worker, which joined the suit as a court-approved intervenor, more than 16,500  people -- about 28% of the unhoused community in the city and county -- live in a vehicle.

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Although there is no restriction on living in a vehicle within the city of Los Angeles, there is a limitation on overnight parking on certain streets between 2 and 5 a.m. and a prohibition on campers on some streets, the OCCW said.

"There are viable locations for immediate operation of additional safe parking sites near Skid Row, as well as other areas of the city and county," homeless rights attorney Carol Sobel wrote to Carter in advance of the hearing. "The court should direct that entry into a safe parking site during the COVID-19 crisis not be restricted (only) to individuals who qualify for ... placement programs."

Late last week, attorneys for the city and county told the judge that sanitation facilities would be serviced and maintained daily on Skid Row. The agreement came days after the judge observed some outdoor sinks in the blighted area were lacking soap and water.

According to the city, vendors of portable sanitation facilities will service 56 hand-washing stations and 54 portable toilets each day in the Skid Row area, which is in danger of experiencing a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.

An estimated 5,000 homeless people currently live in the Skid Row community downtown. The city and county have opened new shelters in recreation centers, deployed hand-washing stations and portable toilets at encampments and brought about 760 hotels and motel rooms and 500 trailers online to deal with the problem.

The lawsuit was brought in Los Angeles federal court by the L.A. Alliance, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers, against the city and county for allegedly not doing enough to find solutions to the problem of thousands of people living in tents, cars and on the streets throughout the downtown area, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

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