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Federal court pauses order to offer shelter to everyone on L.A.’s skid row by fall

A tent next to a portable toilet on a sidewalk
A tent on a sidewalk in L.A.'s skid row area early on April 22.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A panel of judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily froze the deadlines of a federal order to offer housing or shelter to everyone on Los Angeles’ skid row by October.

Last month, the city and county of Los Angeles filed an appeal of a sweeping injunction from U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordering urgent action to get people off skid row. In their appeal to the 9th Circuit, the city and county asked for the deadlines to be suspended while their appeal is heard.

The appellate court didn’t grant that request outright. Instead, the panel of judges paused the order until June 15 and asked for more information on how granting the stay pending appeal sought by the city and county might affect the case before Carter.

“We find that a brief administrative stay is warranted to preserve the status quo until the district court’s May 27, 2021, evidentiary hearing as these further proceedings may impact whether a stay pending appeal is necessary or justified,” Judges Margaret McKeown, Marsha Berzon and Danielle Hunsaker wrote.

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Carter’s order last month shook city government. Initially it called for the city to put $1 billion in escrow and explain how that money would be used to address homelessness. That order was later modified, but the judge’s singular focus on bringing relief to skid row has been criticized by some as distracting from the city and county’s broader efforts to address the crisis.

Others applauded Carter’s effort, saying the city and county had failed in their responsibility to help people on the streets, leaving them to die. Matthew Umhofer, an attorney for the L.A. Alliance, which brought the lawsuit that led to the judge’s order, was encouraged by the 9th Circuit’s decision

“I see this as a good thing,” Umhofer said.

The city and county of L.A. may have a strong case as they seek to overturn a sweeping order requiring them to offer shelter to everyone on skid row.

Skip Miller, a partner at Miller Barondess who is an outside counsel for Los Angeles County, also welcomed the order and said that Carter’s ruling was “contrary to law.” He said the county looked forward to its appeal being heard by the higher court.

Carter wanted the city and county to offer single women and unaccompanied children on skid row a place to stay within 90 days, place families within 120 days and finally, by Oct. 18, offer every homeless person on skid row housing or shelter.

The judge’s ruling said the city and county had wrongly focused on permanent housing at the expense of more temporary shelter, “knowing that massive development delays were likely while people died in the streets.” That element of the order underscored Carter’s skepticism of a core part of L.A.'s current strategy to tackle homelessness.

Carter wrote that “after adequate shelter is offered,” he would allow the city to enforce laws that keep streets and sidewalks clear of tents so long as they’re consistent with previous legal rulings that have limited the enforcement of such rules.

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Separately, Carter on Tuesday rejected L.A. County’s motion to be fully dismissed from the lawsuit. The county’s request was separate from the appeal of Carter’s order and came before the skid row order was handed down last month.


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