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Lawsuit Alleges LA Officials Not Doing Enough To Protect Homeless From Coronavirus

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, an emergency hearing was held in Los Angeles federal court Thursday to discuss a lawsuit which alleges that there has been a lack of action from local officials to protect the homeless from the virus.

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A man sleeps on bench near a bus stop in Los Angeles, on March 17, 2020. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

The lawsuit was filed last week by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless, and disabled city dwellers who contend the apparent lack of services and alleged negligence on the part of city and county officials has resulted in a multitude of dangers in the area.

In response to the suit, U.S. District Judge David Carter scheduled an emergency hearing for Thursday morning and invited elected top elected officials to attend to discuss the issue.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger both attended.

RELATED: $150M Emergency Fund To Lease Trailers, Motel Rooms For Homeless

"The homeless population is one of the most vulnerable at this time, and there is significant risk of contracting the virus among the homeless in the city," Carter wrote in his order setting the hearing.

This comes after Garcetti announced Wednesday a plan to convert 42 recreation centers across L.A. into temporary homeless shelters which will house 6,000 beds. As part of the plan, 13 rec centers would open with 1,600 beds by the end of the week.

Garcetti said the city has already deployed nearly 300 hand-washing stations and 120 mobile bathrooms at homeless encampments.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday said that the first $150 million in emergency funding which was passed by state legislators earlier this week would all go to housing the homeless. The state is using $50 million of that to purchase 1,300 trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can be used to quarantine the homeless.

L.A. County is also establishing a coronavirus isolation zone at the Dockweiler State Beach near El Segundo.

Garcetti warned that if the virus takes hold at homeless encampments, the consequences could be grave.

"As we ask people to remain safe at home, we know that too many Angelenos don't even have that option, they have no home to go to," Garcetti said Wednesday. "If we do not act now, this pandemic could see our homeless population disproportionately affected, and they already disproportionately have the underlying health conditions that make them the most susceptible to morbidity."

L.A.'s homeless crisis has been ongoing for years as more Angelenos are forced onto the streets due in part to a housing shortage and spiking rents.

The lawsuit cites L.A.'s latest homeless numbers. In 2019, the number of homeless people in the county was just under 59,000, a 12 percent increase from the prior year. There were 36,300 homeless people in the city of L.A. in 2019, a staggering 16 percent increase from the year before.

"Some 75 percent of these are unsheltered persons who lack regular access to basic hygiene care such as toilets, running water to wash hands, showers, sinks, kitchen, laundry which has led to filthy (and unhealthy) conditions," according to the L.A. Alliance. "Los Angeles bears the dishonorable distinction of hosting the largest unsheltered population in the country."

Carter is known for his often-hands-on administration of cases, most notably in Orange County, where he oversaw the opening of homeless shelters following the removal of thousands of people in an encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim.

"I think that he (Carter) has shown in Orange County that no neighborhood, no city, should ever say `not in my backyard,"' Garcetti said. "He's been a real strong, common-sense person who's helped places like Santa Ana get shelters up in 27 days. And I really look forward to working with Judge Carter.

In April 2018, Garcetti introduced the "Bridge Home" program, a plan to put up about two dozen temporary homeless shelters. The shelters are designed to give people a safe place to stay until they can find permanent housing.

In January, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved the installation of 30 trailers in South L.A. to provide temporary housing for homeless families.

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

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