Judge brings county attorneys to LA Skid Row in homelessness lawsuit

(Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

A federal judge on Tuesday brought attorneys to Skid Row to observe for themselves that some sanitation facilities installed to help the homeless deal with the threat of the coronavirus are not operational.

The unusual field trip on a rainy afternoon came after a multi-hour proceeding in which Los Angeles city and county officials discussed short- and long-term solutions to the problem of thousands of people living on the streets in the downtown area.

The hearing -- set to resume next week -- is part of a closely watched lawsuit involving homelessness and the advent of COVID-19 on Skid Row.

U.S. District Judge David Carter told the parties that, before the hearing, he had attempted to use six of the hand-washing stations in place in downtown Los Angeles and found none had soap or water. A few hours later, attorneys representing the county were able to see the problem for themselves.

Partly as a result of Carter's efforts to deal with the estimated 27,000 homeless people living downtown during the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

"These interventions, while critically important, are not being deployed at anywhere near the scale necessary to significantly impact the trajectory of this pandemic among the city's most vulnerable residents," according to papers filed by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

The group warned that based on the city's current projections for both shelter beds and hotels and motels, the vast majority of homeless people in Los Angeles will be left to shelter at their encampments, generally without access to hygiene facilities or enough space to ensure social distancing.

Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer previously told the court that by the end of this week, the city would have deployed 50 additional portable toilets and 60 additional hand-washing stations in the Skid Row community.

The lawsuit was brought 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.

As of this afternoon, there were 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the homeless population in the county, said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.