LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has approved an agreement in which the city and county of Los Angeles will provide housing for almost 7,000 homeless people who live near freeways and those over 65 or vulnerable to COVID-19, officials said Thursday.
The city will provide 6,000 new beds within 10 months and another 700 beds over 18 months while the county spends $300 million over five years to fund services for the people, according to a joint statement from the offices of county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and City Council President Nury Martinez.
As a result of the agreement, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter dropped a preliminary injunction that required the relocation of homeless people living within 500 feet (152 meters) of freeways by Sept. 1 on grounds they faced a health risk emergency.
"The court has challenged us to do better, to do more and to do it quickly, and we need to meet that challenge. We are now positioned to dive into difficult but honest conversations with our county partners about future financial resources and obligations," Martinez said in a statement.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was pleased by the agreement.
"This is an important milestone in our commitment to combating homelessness, along with our work to build thousands of units of permanent housing and increase city spending on homelessness to more than $600 million this year," Garcetti said in a statement.
Carter issued the injunction May 15 after a prior agreement fell through. The action involves a lawsuit filed in March by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, which accused officials in greater Los Angeles of failing to comprehensively address the homelessness crisis.
In addition to the original category of homeless people living near freeways, the new agreement adds those 65 or older or who have underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of being hospitalized or dying from the coronavirus.
The lawsuit asked the judge to set a "legally enforceable mandate" to establish homeless services and enough beds for anyone who needs one on any given night.
The city and the county must present the specifics of their plan to the judge by Friday.
"This is a significant step forward. But it's not clear what it's going to look like, where all these beds are going to end up," said Daniel Conway, policy adviser for the alliance. "They're going to have to get creative."
All options for sheltering people should be considered including shared housing, huge tents called sprung structures, tiny houses, hotels, and inexpensive 3D printed homes, the lawsuit said.
There is city and county-owned property near Los Angeles International Airport and elsewhere where shelters could go up, according to the court documents.
A January count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported that there were more than 66,400 homeless people living in Los Angeles County — by far the largest single concentration in the state. That included more than 41,000 within the city limits. Both figures were up more than 12% from the previous year.
The region has been struggling to deal with the growing problem. But Carter said those living near freeways are at special risk.
They are exposed to pollution, including lead, that can shorten their life expectancy by decades and face a greater danger of being struck by a car or injured during an accident or earthquake, the judge said in May.
Their camps also block sidewalks, he said.
Meanwhile Carter will continue considering the larger lawsuit, which demands finding beds for all 64,000 people in the county experiencing homeless, said Elizabeth Mitchell, an attorney for the alliance.
"This was a very exciting step. We're very pleased," Mitchell said Thursday. "But we hope that these kinds of smaller agreements will be wrapped into a larger agreement addressing the overall problem."