A federal judge on Friday ordered Los Angeles authorities to remove thousands of homeless people from highways and their ramps because of the particularly deadly risks in these areas, including pollutants, passing cars and possible earthquakes.
Judge David O. Carter said that county and city governments should offer an alternative shelter to the 6,000 to 7,000 people who live under the highways and on exit and entry ramps.
He said that temporary injunction would go into effect on May 22, but a provision allows the parties to submit an alternative agreement by Tuesday, which the judge will review.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Human Rights Alliance, which argued that officials were illegally mistreating the approximately 60,000 homeless people living in the region.
"As with many problems involving homeless individuals, neither party appears to be dealing with this problem urgently," wrote Judge Carter, noting that both sides of the case agreed that the situation was dangerous.
Judge Carter said that in addition to the obvious danger of passing cars, vehicle pollutants can shorten the lives of people who have lived close to highways for decades. He added that an earthquake could cause the roads to collapse, with catastrophic results.
Homeless people who live near these highways should be moved to shelters that allow for appropriate social distance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Judge Carter wrote. He said showers and sinks were also needed, as well as nurses who could test for communicable diseases like Covid-19.
He also said that the city and the county should not take people's belongings while transporting them and should notify them in advance.
After Los Angeles authorities remove homeless people from the highway, they will be able to order people to return and apply "anti-camp" laws, the judge said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti learned of the judge's order during his daily coronavirus Press conference on Friday. He said the judge, supporters of the homeless, businesses and the government share a concern about homeless people who are subject to the health risks of living near a highway.
Alex Comisar, a spokesman for the mayor, said in a statement that the city is discussing a possible settlement with the people who sued.
Daniel Conway, a policy advisor to the residents' alliance whose process led to the order, said he was moved by the judge's decision and hopes that the injunction will serve as a model for future decisions about dangerous living conditions.
"It is not difficult to see how a very similar analysis could apply to several places," said Conway.
Conway acknowledged that the challenge the judge had given the city and the county was "Herculean", but he said it was a sign that improving the living conditions of many homeless people required drastic action.