Editorial: We need to house residents of homeless encampments even when there isn’t a crisis

All homeless people need housing, whether they live in an encampment or unfurl a sleeping bag in a doorway at night. The issue has always been one of priorities — whom do you help first? Do you seek out the most vulnerable homeless people suffering from physical or mental illness? Do you dismantle an encampment inhabited by dozens or hundreds, some of whom have disabilities and illnesses and others who suffer only from poverty?

Or do you house — or shelter — all of the estimated 4,600 homeless individuals who live on skid row in downtown Los Angeles, the epicenter of homelessness in the city? That’s what U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ordered the city of Los Angeles to do in a six-month time period as part of a preliminary injunction requested by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights — a group of downtown property owners, residents and others suing the city and county over grim conditions in the skid row area.

On Thursday, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously struck down that sweeping order saying that Carter had overstepped by granting an injunction based on claims not made in the original complaint.

The city is better off without the order. Of course, Carter was spot-on in his connection of racism and homelessness in the original order. But he was wrong to compel the city to prioritize housing all of the homeless people living on skid row in a matter of months. To comply quickly, the city would have spent tens of millions on temporary shelters rather than the permanent housing that homeless people desperately need.

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