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Federal Court Decision Could Boost Mental Health Beds for Homeless

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By Jorge Casuso

August 14, 2023 -- A federal appeals court on Friday paved the way for a trial in a groundbreaking lawsuit claiming Los Angeles County has not acted quickly enough to tackle its growing homeless problem.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the County's bid to compel a federal judge to approve a settlement agreement between the County and the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights to dismiss the case.

Friday's decision backs efforts in April by federal Judge David O. Carter to boost the number of mental health beds in board and care facilities stipulated in the agreement.

The County appealed that decision in May, arguing Carter lacked authority to reject a settlement reached by the two parties and that he unconstitutionally interfered in County budget decisions.

In its appeal, the County said Carter's "rulings and the court's conduct are unprecedented" and "also clearly erroneous and exceed the bounds" of the district court's authority.

In rejecting the County's request, the justices found the County "has not demonstrated a clear and indisputable right to the extraordinary remedy of a writ of mandamus directing the district court to dismiss the action with prejudice."

County officials have said the settlement Carter rejected would have boosted the number of new mental health and substance use disorder beds from 300 to 1,000.

It also would have provided funding for existing board and care facilities to offer services to an additional 450 people.

Carter rejected the settlement offer, noting that a 2019 County report found 3,000 beds would be needed and that more "oversight and enforcement powers" should be put in place.

A tentative court date has been set for November 6 in the case filed in 2020 by the L.A. Alliance, a group of residents and businesses.

The lawsuit argues that the County has created a dangerous environment by failing to do enough to address its growing homeless population, which is the largest in the nation.

The Alliance demanded that the County immediately create shelter and housing, provide services and treatment and regulate public spaces to make streets, sidewalks, and parks safe and clean.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the County's homeless population has continued rising, reaching an estimated 75,518 people, nearly three-quarters of them living on the streets ("LA County's Homeless Population Continues Rising,"June 29, 2023).

According to data self-reported on the demographic survey, 25 percent of the homeless population reported experiencing serious mental illness.

In Santa Monica, the homeless population rose from 807 people in 2022 to 926 this year, a 15 percent increase ("Santa Monica's Homeless Numbers Rise After COVID-Driven Drop," May 4, 2023).

Last year, the LA Alliance's attorney, Elizabeth Mitchell, laid out a number of legal and policy options the City of Santa Monica can take to significantly tackle its longstanding homeless problem ("Santa Monica Needs Radical Shift in Homeless Policies, Report Recommends," April 21, 2022).

The options outlined in the report for Santa Monica Pulse include enacting local ordinances, suing Los Angeles County for failing to tackle the growing homeless problem or placing a measure on the countywide ballot forcing officials to address the crisis they created (read report).

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