A lawsuit that has altered the city of Los Angeles’ policies on seizing the property of homeless people in Skid Row, was scheduled to be discussed behind closed doors on Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council, which could move to end or extend the legal battle.
The city has long struggled with how to clean up and regulate homeless encampments, and in 2016 passed a law that would limit the amount of belongings a homeless person could store on the sidewalk to 60 gallons. But not long after, in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Los Angeles police and sanitation officers from seizing and destroying homeless people’s property in and near Skid Row.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero also ordered the city to segregate and store impounded belongings where they can be recovered, and the increased regulation has led to an escalation of the size of homeless encampments in Skid Row, where thousands of homeless people are located. The city is allowed to confiscate or destroy contraband, crime evidence, and hazardous material or rat-infested property posing public health and safety issues.
The closed City Council session on the lawsuit also comes as the city has been fighting an outbreak of typhus, which has not only impacted the Skid Row area but may have also found its way inside City Hall, as an employee at City Hall East contracted typhus late last year and said she believes it was from being bitten by fleas in her office.
During comments on the council chamber floor in a recent City Council meeting, Councilman Joe Buscaino pointed to the Mitchell ruling as being partly responsible for the typhus outbreak as it has led to a significant increase in homeless encampments in downtown.
“That injunction is prohibiting our outreach workers from getting to our most vulnerable homeless population in and around the downtown area. So rats are a symbol of this injunction,” he said.
Typhus is not transmitted person-to-person, and flea-borne typhus can spread to people from infected fleas and their feces. Typhus infection can be prevented through flea control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites, and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats and opossums, according to the Department of Public Health.
Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and rash and can be treated with antibiotics.
The City Council is scheduled to meet with members of the City Attorney’s Office to discuss the lawsuit and would make a public announcement if it any decisions are reached.