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Judge Extends Order To Relocate Homeless People Living Near LA Freeways

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The federal judge, who last week ordered homeless encampments adjacent to Los Angeles freeways be immediately cleared, extended the order Friday, giving county and city officials until Sept. 1 to agree on a plan for relocation.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter cited health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic in his May 15 order that demanded the removal and relocation of up to 7,000 people living in camps beneath and around the city's freeway system by the following Friday.

But after city and county attorneys urged Carter to drop or delay the order, the judge indicated he would oversee the clearance in stages, starting with a June 12 status report.

"At minimum, this report shall detail a plan for establishing shelter and clearing overpasses, underpasses and ramps in each council district or supervisorial district no later than Sept. 1," Carter wrote. "The court reserves the authority to advance the deadline of Sept. 1 in the event that the interim status reports do not demonstrate satisfactory progress towards compliance with the preliminary injunction."

When asked about the modified order Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was very optimistic that all parties involved would be able to come together to find a humane solution to relocate Angelenos living on the streets near freeways and take bold action in addressing overarching issues surrounding housing.

"I love this judge," he said. "I love his impatience. I love his focus. I love his passion, and I love that he is offering the broad shoulders of the federal court to continue to build on the progress that we've laid down here."

The ruling came as part of settlement talks in a lawsuit filed in March by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights — a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers —that accused the city and county of Los Angeles of not doing enough to address the homeless problem downtown, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while the plaintiffs commended the judge's order, calling it a "compassionate step to protect a significant portion of homeless persons and the community from likely harm," local government officials said in court filings that it would interfere with complex policy matters and did not "cite authority for its extraordinary judicial action."

The county said it was exploring its options Friday, including a possible appeal to what it believes is an order "not supported by the law."

"We believe we must focus our immediate efforts on the most vulnerable individuals who are unhoused, including seniors vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19," Vanessa Martinez, county spokesperson, said in an email. "The County will take necessary actions to ensure that the unprecedented progress we and our partners have made to ambitiously address long-standing systemic problems is not derailed."

Martinez said the county lauded the intention and urgency of the court and was working as fast as it could to get as many people housed as it could.

"We are committed to addressing the homelessness crisis in our communities and, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are urgently focused on accelerating the progress that has already been made to house thousands of people and help the most vulnerable among us," she said.

More information about resources available to people experiencing homelessness in the wake of the pandemic can be found on the county's website.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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