Despite the best efforts of LA’s homeless shelters, the coronavirus is now spreading among residents of 4 out of 5 shelters near Skid Row. The county is currently investigating possible outbreaks at a total of 23 shelters:
The latest cluster of cases identified is at downtown’s LA Mission, where 14 residents tested positive, and now have been moved off-site.
“My first reaction was shock, and my second was disappointment, because we’ve tried so hard for six weeks following protocols to avoid this,” said Herb Smith, CEO of the LA Mission.
Clusters of cases have cropped up at other shelters, according to the LA County Department of Public Health website. There were four people testing positive at both the Midnight Mission and at the Weingart Center, and 100 at the Union Rescue Mission.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health, said Monday the county is investigating possible outbreaks at 23 homeless shelters.
Not surprisingly, the shelters are finding that homeless people who are on the streets all day, often without masks or social distancing, are bringing the virus into the shelters at night.
Last month, LA County, in coordination with Governor Newsom, launched a program called Project Roomkey which was intended to provide free, temporary hotel rooms to homeless people, particularly those 65 and older. Initially, the program planned to provide rooms for around 15,000 homeless but the reality has been closer to a tenth of that. On Monday, the county did open a 460 room hotel which is being run under Project Roomkey by the Salvation Army.
A downtown Los Angeles hotel, shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, has opened once more — this time as an 11-floor, 460-room temporary homeless shelter.
It’s the biggest and most ambitious move yet to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets by putting a major hotel just blocks from Skid Row to use housing the city’s most vulnerable…
The county set a goal of securing 15,000 motel and hotel rooms, but several weeks into the project, only 1,800 people are being housed as hundreds of hotels remain vacant.
Homeless activists frustrated with the slow progress have been demanding that the county commandeer all empty hotel rooms for the homeless.
In recent weeks, housing advocates have criticized the program for its slow progress, demanding that local officials use their emergency powers to commandeer local hotels so they can move people into rooms faster. They’ve said the officials should place particular pressure on hotels like the ones at the L.A Live complex, which have received generous tax subsidies from the city.
“They’ve gotten millions and billions of dollars combined, both hotels are vacant, and they are a mile away from the epicenter of homelessness in L.A.,” says Street Watch L.A. organizer Jed Parriott…
Earlier this month, Jed Parriott and a homeless activists named Davon Brown walked into the Ritz-Carlton where Brown claimed he was a rock star and asked to be shown a room. When he got upstairs, Brown revealed that he was actually homeless and claimed the room for himself. He demanding that all the empty rooms in the hotel be commandeered and given to the homeless. Brown and Parriott occupied the room for six hours until they were arrested.
@MayorOfLA refuses to commandeer vacant hotels to save lives, so today we are supporting our unhoused comrade Davon Brown who is commandeering a vacant hotel room for himself.
— Street Watch LA (@StreetWatchLA) May 1, 2020
Even if the county or city of LA had commandeered the rooms, current plans are for Project Roomkey seem to be intended to last for a few months. At some point, these people will probably be headed back to the streets or to shelters. And there’s no reason to think the coronavirus is going to go away by then.
In the meantime, the spread of the virus in shelters is a concern because homeless people are more likely to have underlying conditions that could lead to them becoming seriously ill or dying if infected. Homeless shelters are a proverbial tinderbox for the virus, so the county needs to worry about this.
Here’s NBC4 LA’s report on the outbreaks at LA County shelters.