Jun. 7, 2023
Advocacy groups bicker over who caused minority homelessness in Los Angeles
Attorneys for the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights accused the Los Angeles Community Action Network of having a hand in shaping the demographic of the people who live on sidewalks in downtown Los Angeles. Attorneys for the Action Network rejected it as a "smear," An apology did not end the testy exchanges at the hearing.
At a hearing to discuss dismissal of a lawsuit over reducing homelessness in Los Angeles County, two advocacy groups fought in the courtroom Tuesday over whether one of them is responsible for most of the skid row population being nonwhite.
Attorneys for the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights accused the Los Angeles Community Action Network of having a hand in shaping the demographic of the people who live on sidewalks in downtown Los Angeles.
Asked by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter whether the increasing number of homeless minorities could be considered a consequence of state action, Umhofer, Mitchell & King LLP attorney Elizabeth A. Mitchell, representing L.A. Alliance, pointed to a longstanding policy of containing the city's homeless in specific areas, like skid row.
"When you centralize poverty, and you centralize the desperation of people that are looking for help, then you inevitably have a spike in violence and in crime and in crisis," she said.
Mitchell further alleged that the Community Action Network had a hand in a "devil's deal" that made the policy possible some 50 years ago.
In response, Carol A. Sobel of Santa Monica, who represents the Action Network, condemned what she called Mitchell's "smear" of her client.
"They didn't even exist until about 20 years ago," Sobel said. "So the 'devil's deal' is with these developers and these property owners, and not with [my clients], and that is really outrageous," she said.
Mitchell subsequently apologized and retracted her statement, explaining that her understanding of the policy's origins may have been mistaken.
However, testy banter continued throughout the remainder of the hearing.
The parties met on Tuesday, along with counsel for Los Angeles County, for a hearing on whether to dismiss causes brought against the county by L.A. Alliance related to the ongoing homelessness crisis. LA Alliance for Human Rights et al. v. City of Los Angeles et al., 2:20-cv-02291-DOCKES (C.D. Cal., filed Mar. 10, 2020).
At issue was whether the plaintiffs could point to a state-created danger to the city's homeless people, and whether they have standing to allege that the county has wasted taxpayer dollars earmarked to address the issue.
"[The plaintiffs] simply haven't met their burden," said Mira Hashmall of Miller Barondess LLP, who represents the county. "There is no constitutional right to housing. They do not allege any facts, even viewed in the most favorable light, that could demonstrate deliberate indifference."
Hashmall also took the plaintiffs to task for a claim against the county which seems to paint the behavior of the city's homeless people as a nuisance.
"It's an interesting theory from an organization that purports to represent that same community," she said. "But in any event, it's not a basis for suing the county."
In response, Mitchell argued that the nuisance-causing conduct alleged is a direct result of the county's failure to serve its homeless community.
"When you have a clear failure by an entity who has an obligation to provide help to people, which it is not providing, is it people who are under the influence of drugs, who have schizophrenia, who are paranoid, who are bipolar, who are manic, who are self-treating because they are in dire straits, is it their fault that chaos is ensuing?" she asked.
"Or is it the people who have an obligation to take care of them, to provide the services and treatment and benefits that they are not providing which is failing them?" she continued.
Mitchell also pointed to a May 2021 decision by Carter in the case, determining that the plaintiffs have standing.
"The court specifically concluded that both for the housed and unhoused individuals, plaintiffs have alleged sufficient standing," she said.
Following the hearing, Hashmall said the plaintiffs had "failed to establish any legal ground for bringing their lawsuit, and they couldn't articulate one today.
"We are hopeful that the court will follow the law and dismiss this action so that the county can concentrate its resources on resolving the homelessness crisis," she said in an emailed statement.
Despite requests from counsel that the motion to dismiss be resolved immediately, Carter instead elected to take the matter under submission while he reviews the prior ruling.
"I'll go back and look at it again for you, and make certain I feel the same way, or differently, and reverse myself if I'm wrong," he said, adding that he may call counsel back to court as early as next week.
Carter also said he would review the question of a state-created danger.
"It's new, it's novel," he said. "Quite frankly, I'm in a quandary about it right now."
The case is set to go to jury trial in November.
The county and the homeless advocates had reached an $850 settlement in the case, but Carter rejected it, saying it would have taken away his authority to enforce the commitments.