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After a cold and wet week, federal court comes to skid row

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter and LAPD Officer Deon Joseph
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter tours Los Angeles’ skid row with LAPD Officer Deon Joseph last April.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A wet week in Los Angeles that drenched the region’s homeless population has left a federal judge outraged by the conditions people on the street face and by the city’s apparent inaction.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter spent the weekend on skid row bringing tents to people who had nowhere to shelter and now wants elected officials and attorneys for the city and county to come there as well.

Carter will hold a hearing Thursday at the Downtown Women’s Center in the heart of skid row, in a case brought last year by business owners and residents who banded together to form a group called the LA Alliance for Human Rights. They are demanding solutions to what they see as unsafe and inhumane conditions in homeless encampments — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These conditions cannot be allowed to continue!” Carter wrote in his notice requesting the appearance of a number of public officials, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Atty. Mike Feuer and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis.

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“It is the Court’s concern that despite seven months of promises, conferences, plans and meetings, nothing substantial has been done to remediate the appalling and dangerous conditions in Los Angeles’ Skid Row for the homeless population,” the judge added.

Carter compared the situation to that surrounding the seminal civil rights case Brown vs. Board of Education, saying there are times when the federal judiciary may need to act “after a long period of inaction by local government officials.”

Carter’s legal process since the case was first filed last March has been anything but conventional. He insisted on holding in-person hearings despite a raging pandemic, walked attorneys through the streets of skid row and regularly called public officials at all hours of the day asking what they were doing about the situation on Los Angeles’ streets.

“The storms last week, and the lack of preparation, seem ... to have pushed Judge Carter over the top,” Daniel Conway, a spokesman for the plaintiffs in the case, told the Associated Press.

At 76, Judge David Carter knows he shouldn’t be on skid row exposing himself to the coronavirus. But he wants more for L.A.'s homeless people.

Last spring, Carter issued an order calling for the relocation of up to 7,000 people living near freeway overpasses, off-ramps and on-ramps. But the order was vacated after the city and county agreed to fund the construction of shelter for 6,000 people now sleeping on the streets.

Carter has been criticized for overstepping the bounds of his authority as the city has moved to clear freeway underpasses. This will be the first hearing of 2021, and Carter wants to hear more about progress in the city’s construction goals, a significant portion of which must be completed by the spring under the agreement. He also wants to know how Garcetti could use his emergency authority to better help people on the streets.

“If the Court does not specifically order the construction and staffing of tents such as those erected this past week, will not more homeless persons, including women and disabled veterans simply perish due to exposure, suicide and/or the ravages of substance abuse?” he asked.


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