Last Updated on May 28, 2021 by BVN

Phyllis Kimber Wilcox | BVN Contributor

“In Brown, the analysis centered around the value of attending integrated schools…Here, Black people, and Black women in particular, are dying at exponentially higher rates than their White counterparts, and these disparate death rates can be directly traced to a history of structural racism and discrimination.”

-Judge David O Carter

“I want to be very clear,” said Heidi Marston, Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, “homelessness is a byproduct of racism. We continue to see that Black people are overrepresented in our homeless population, and that Black African Americans are four times more likely to become homeless than their white counterparts.”

– Heidi Marston, Director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority

In an unprecedented decision on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered both L.A. city and L.A. county to provide housing for all unsheltered people on skid row.

The judge’s order covered several areas of concern including single women, unaccompanied children, families, and others. Authorities were given ninety days to house single women and unaccompanied children,  120 days for families, and 180 days for the others. The order gave authorities until October to fulfill its requirements.

The action stemmed from a lawsuit: LA Alliance for Human Rights, et al vs The City of Los Angeles and  the County of Los Angeles. In the lawsuit the plaintiffs allege that unhoused people die in Los Angeles at 

the rate of three a day—disproportionately affecting Black people, especially Black women; that the unhoused population of Los Angeles increased seventy five percent over a period of three years, and that they homeless are forced to live in unhygienic and unhealthy conditions (made critical by the pandemic).

The suit also alleges Los Angeles hosts the largest population of unsheltered people in the nation and  the encampments of the unhoused have become endemic and their possessions are vectors for fleas, rats and other disease-causing agents.

LA Alliance for Human Rights, et al file suit against the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles over the living conditions and numbers of homeless. Pictured: Cover page of lawsuit (source:

It reads in part, “The multiplication of makeshift structures, garbage, human waste, and other detritus has created circumstances throughout the city that are crippling for local businesses, unlivable for residents, and deadly for those on the streets.”

The suit further highlighted the environmental impact from power-washing human waste and used needles into the ocean as being unassessed and untold.

Based on the complaint, the city and county of Los Angeles combined spend over a billion dollars annually providing police, emergency, and support services to those living on the streets—and, still, the tragedy continues to unfold.

The Los Angeles crisis with housing their citizens is legendary, and the problem has exploded with the onset of the Covid.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developent 2020 Annual Report, The data showed one out of every four people experiencing homelessness in the United States did so in either Los Angeles pr New York City. A large majority of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles were individuals (or people in households without children) (81%).

Report Cover (Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress

Among the report’s key findings, was for the first time in 2020, more homeless people went unsheltered (outside of a facility) than those who were in  shelters. The numbers of unsheltered homeless families with children increased for the first time since reporting began. The numbers of unsheltered veterans increased by six percent as well as a three percent decrease in sheltered veterans. 

Graphic (source: A key finding of the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress delivered in January 2021, was for the first time, more homeless people went unsheltered (outside of a facility) than those who were in  shelters. 

“The number of people experiencing homelessness nationwide increased by two percent between 2019 and 2020, or 12,751 more people. This marks the fourth consecutive year that total homelessness has increased in the United States,” as highlighted in the report.

In California, the increase in homelessness in 2020 was more dramatic totaling 161,548, this represented a 6.8 percent increase over 2019 well above the two percent average experienced nationally. The number of unsheltered homeless in the state at 113,660, was equally concerning.  When the plight of these people is considered in context of the coronavirus pandemic that rocked the nation to its core last year, it is even more alarming. This served as background for the lawsuit.    

Graphic (source: Homelessness in California in 2020 increased a dramatic 6.8 percent over 2019 to a catastrophic total of 161,548.


Los Angeles City and County Appeal the Judge’s Order

On Friday April 23, the City and County of Los Angeles filed a notice of appeal. In it, local officials asked for a stay of the judge’s order until their appeal could be heard. At significant contention is a part of the order that requires the City of Los Angeles to place one billion dollars in an escrow account.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the amount represents “more than one third” of the funds Mayor Eric Garcetti has budgeted for housing projects funded under Proposition HHH. The 1.2-billion-dollar bond was proposed to more than triple the amount of supportive housing in the city and expected to build over ten thousand new housing units. 

On Friday, April 25 Judge David Carter issued an order denying the stay and the city’s contention that the LA Alliance for Human Rights had no standing to bring the lawsuit for third parties since there are many homeless persons who are party to the original complaint. 

A Legacy of Racism and the Continued Struggle for Civil Rights

While some have accused the judge of judicial overreach, others have stated there is precedent for federal judges to weigh in on matters such as these. The decision is being seen as a continuation of the civil rights struggle.

In the decision, Judge David Carter stated, “The Civil War brought a formal end to the institution of slavery, but a century and a half after the Gettysburg Address, the “unfinished work” of which President Lincoln spoke remains woefully unfinished. Here in Los Angeles, how did racism become embedded in the policies and structures of our new city? What if there was a conscious effort, a deliberate intent, a cowardice of inaction…” 

Judge Carter visits homeless site (source:

The judge went on to discuss how redlining and other structural barriers were designed to segregate and disenfranchised communities of color before declaring, “The current inaction on the part of the City and County of Los Angeles has allowed the harms of their racist legacy to continue unabated, leaving Black people—and especially Black women—effectively abandoned on the streets.”

According to Carter, this legacy not only affects underserved communities of color but all Angelenos.  

 “The time has come to redress these wrongs and finish another measure of our nation’s unfinished work.”