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Editorial: How do we keep coronavirus from ravaging L.A.’s homeless encampments?

The Los Angeles Times quoted UCLA Fielding School of Public Health associate professor Randall Kuhn in an editorial about Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s decision to use shuttered city recreation centers as emergency shelters for the homeless. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Nothing would exacerbate the public health crisis of homelessness like adding the public health crisis of the coronavirus. Homeless people in Los Angeles County, who already are beset by health problems both chronic and acute, have lifespans two to three decades shorter than people who are housed; last year, more than 1,000 homeless people died on the streets. A substantial portion of the homeless population is 55 or older. All these factors make homeless people especially vulnerable to getting sicker or dying of the disease caused by the virus.

In an effort to protect the estimated 59,000 homeless people in the county from infection, Los Angeles officials are deploying hundreds of hand-washing stations near encampments that are large or located in “hygiene deserts.” The City Council approved a multitude of additional measures this week to help homeless people, including mobile showers and more portable toilets. The council also voted to lift overnight parking restrictions throughout the city for homeless people living in RVs and to let tents stay up on city sidewalks all day as a way to offer some buffer against contamination. City and county emergency winter shelters will stay open into the spring, and the county has begun leasing hotel and motel rooms and assembling trailers to use as isolation quarters for people (including homeless individuals) who are or are thought to be sick.

These are all welcome measures — homeless people needed more hygiene facilities even before the pandemic. But the most sweeping move was Mayor Eric Garcetti’s decision to take over 42 city recreation centers (all shuttered because of the virus) and convert them into emergency shelters, with a total of 6,000 beds. He said the first 1,600 beds would become available by the end of the weekend.