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Homeless Residents are Being Moved Inside, But it's Slower Than Hoped

The following article was originally published April 17, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

LAist and KPCC logos

Story by Matt Tinoco

 

Reporter Roundup is a collaboration between PBS SoCal/KCET and KPCC/LAist to bring you the biggest headlines M-F about COVID-19. Watch the April 17 episode here.

Weeks after officials promised extraordinary efforts to shield thousands of homeless people from the coronavirus pandemic in trailers, hotel rooms, and new shelters, only a small portion of the promised infrastructure has actually come online.

That's despite signs the virus is beginning to spread more widely among Southern California's homeless population.

Here's a roundup of how things currently stand.

 

LATEST NUMBERS: BRINGING HOMELESS PEOPLE INSIDE

Last week, L.A. County announced plans to lease 15,000 hotel rooms for particularly vulnerable homeless residents. This followed an announcement the week prior by California Gov. Gavin Newsom promising to do something similar.

They've now secured approximately 2,377 rooms, up from about 1,746 last week.

As of April 17, only 575 of those rooms have been occupied.

At his daily check-in Friday, Mayor Garcetti announced that the city is currently negotiating with over 24 additional hotels.

Part of the holdup is finding enough staff to operate the hotels and feed the residents. Creating a system to reliably deliver three meals a day to residents isolating in rooms that lack kitchens takes time and creativity.

Four weeks ago Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to open up 42 recreation centers in L.A., with beds for 6,000 homeless people. But the need to observe physical distancing between beds severely reduced that capacity. So with all 42 open, fewer than 2,000 beds would be available.

A hotel near downtown Los Angeles. | Matt Tinoco/LAist
A hotel near downtown Los Angeles. | Matt Tinoco/LAist

Currently, 20 recreation centers are open, totaling just 851 beds.

The mayor's office confirmed to LAist that the city plans to open at least four more centers as soon as possible.

Meanwhile on Friday Mayor Garcetti announced that ten trailers will open on the campus of Woodland Hills rec center. It's part of the city's new trailer program, utilizing trailers that were given by the state. Having more than 300 trailers up and running is the goal. They'll be used to house homeless Angelenos who are high risk and asymptomatic.

LATEST NUMBERS: VIRUS SPREAD AMONG THE HOMELESS COMMUNITY

In L.A. County, at least 33 people experiencing homelessness have tested positive.

Most of those cases involve people living on the street, not in a shelter, according to Barbara Ferrer, director of L.A. County Public Health.

One of L.A.'s largest shelters, the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, has six residents who have tested positive.

Last week, a member of the mission's staff who also lived in the building became Skid Row's first confirmed death from COVID-19.

Mission director Andy Bales told KPCC's AirTalk on Friday that they were making every effort to minimize any further spread inside, including expanding living spaces by opening other parts of the building not typically used for sleeping.

Testing results may be skewed by limited access to tests. At one of San Francisco's largest homeless shelters, 70 of 100 residents tested positive this week.

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