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Federal Judge Orders Los Angeles To Offer Shelter To Skid Row Residents

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Los Angeles, a federal judge is ordering that the city and county act now to help the homeless. Yesterday, Judge David Carter told LA officials to offer shelter by October to more than 4,600 people living on Skid Row. Anna Scott from member station KCRW has more.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: The 110-page order from Judge Carter came as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed last year by a group of downtown businessowners and residents. The complaint accuses the city and county of violating various laws by failing to combat homelessness. Throughout the case, the judge has been blistering in his criticism of LA public officials.

DANIEL CONWAY: This order would be transformational.

SCOTT: Daniel Conway is a spokesperson for the plaintiffs. He says this new order could bring badly needed relief to a neighborhood known as LA's epicenter of homelessness.

CONWAY: Not just for those - the individuals who would be receiving the care and housing, but also for the city and the community.

SCOTT: Conway hopes this will spark quick action. But what action that might be isn't clear. The judge's order doesn't specify what kind of shelter LA would have to provide. That has Skid Row activist and resident Jeff Page concerned about a potential rush to erect short-term group shelters. He questions if that really would benefit the unhoused community.

JEFF PAGE: Or is it for the rest of society that just doesn't want to see homeless people piled up on the sidewalks?

SCOTT: Page worries that the city and county might use the order to justify police sweeps to remove people from sidewalks. Earlier this week, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a billion-dollar spending plan to fight homelessness. Most of that would go to permanent supportive housing, which the city has been slow to build. The judge's order calls for putting all that money into an escrow account so it can be tracked. At a press conference after the order was released, Mayor Garcetti expressed concern that these requirements could slow down efforts to address housing and homelessness even more.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAKEY GRAVES SONG, "IF NOT FOR YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.