Thousands of Shelter Beds for Homeless Individuals Amid COVID-19

Garcetti announces plan to provide thousands of beds in City rec. centers

By Sam Catanzaro

As Los Angeles plans to add thousands of shelter beds for the homeless to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a lawsuit contends the county and city lawmakers have inadequately protected the homeless during the pandemic.

“Too many Angelenos lack a basic necessity that will help most of us get through this crisis: a home,” said Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti. “We are taking immediate, urgent action to slow the spread of COVID-19 by helping people who are experiencing homelessness come indoors.”

According to Garcetti, the measure will use $20 million in budget reserve funds for emergency relief efforts — including a plan to add 1,600 emergency shelter beds in thirteen City of Los Angeles recreation centers by the end of this week, and scale up to dozens more locations in the coming days with more than 6,000 beds provided by the American Red Cross. According to Garcetti, the City will work with the County, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA), and other organizations to identify individuals in the homeless population who face the greatest risk from the novel coronavirus.

“Using city facilities like recreation centers to get our most vulnerable neighbors off the streets rapidly will help slow the spread of the virus, reducing strain on our healthcare system and protecting the health and safety of the housed and unhoused alike,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents Pacific Palisades, in response to Garcetti’s plan.

Last week Bonin sent a letter to county health officials asking for guidelines on how Los Angeles should address the public health challenges posed by encampments.

As outlined in the letter, in recent months the City of Los Angeles has provided mobile bathrooms, mobile showers and trash cans at some encampments, and in the past week has begun installing portable hand-washing stations at many other encampments. Most encampments, however, lack any hygiene services, and many that do have services only have them part-time.

“Generally, unhoused residents still lack regular access to basic hygiene services. Even these installations of showers or bathrooms can prove controversial. As a result, policy decisions are heavily influenced by politics instead of public health considerations,” Bonin said.

In his letter, Bonin asks what resources are available from the state or county to help cities, which generally do not provide health services, meet the particular public health challenges of people living in encampments.

Amid this backdrop, on Thursday an emergency hearing took place in a federal lawsuit challenging what plaintiffs say is a lack of action by the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles to adequately protect homeless individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The suit, filed by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, previously homeless and disabled residents, claims the alleged lack of services and negligence on the part of city and county lawmakers has led in a range of dangers.

“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 environmental impact from power-washing human waste and used needles into our oceans is unassessed and untold. The City and County combined spend over a billion dollars annually providing police, emergency, and support services to those living on the streets,” reads the suit. “Officials in both the County and City have gone to great lengths in the last couple years to address this crisis, and their efforts are impressive and commendable; yet much more needs to be done. The only way to address this crisis with the urgency it deserves is an emergency response— providing immediate shelter for all.”

After the suit was filed, U.S. District Judge David Carter set an emergency hearing for Thursday morning.

“The homeless population is one of the most vulnerable at this time, and there is significant risk of contracting the virus among the homeless in the city,” Carter wrote in his order. “The court believes an emergency status conference in this case is necessary and would be beneficial.”

In his letter, Carter requested that a range of officials attend, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer and LAHSA’s interim executive director Heidi Marston.

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