Coronavirus: Some Homeless Skeptical of L.A. Plan to Move Them to Recreation Centers

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent over the last year to nearly 59,000 living on the streets, according to a report released Tuesday.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Some homeless people are reportedly skeptical of a new plan by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to relocate them to recreation centers in residential communities to contain the coronavirus pandemic, fearful they will be less safe in shelters.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that while some homeless people like the plan, others did not:

Several minutes later, [Tyson] Dixon, 53, who had his temperature taken by the officers on the bus, arrived at the Echo Park Community Center, hopeful about his prospects for a cot and hot shower.

“I’m tired of staying on these streets,” he said. “I try to stay in shelters. They have case workers. If you stay in a tent … you’re stuck.”

Still, some of those living on the streets expressed serious doubts about making the move.

David Busch, a longtime activist who is homeless and lives in Venice, said he has been trying to isolate himself in his tent — and would need far more reassurance from public health experts before going into one of the converted recreation centers.

“All over the city, they’re telling people not to congregate, yet they’re telling homeless people to congregate in these recreation centers,” he said. “What protection are we going to have?”

San Francisco has a slightly different approach: it plans to use empty hotel rooms to house homeless people who are particularly vulnerable, including the elderly, as well as to quarantine those who are confirmed to have coronavirus. Others will be moved into large makeshift shelters — possible in convention centers — as space becomes available, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday. The aim is to reduce crowding in existing shelters, and to allow for more “social distancing.”

The Chronicle also reported that while federal officials have praised the city’s approach, some federal officials, who did not want to be named, said “they’re finding it’s safer to leave homeless camps outside in the open air, with proper spacing and sanitation facilities, than to move people into cramped settings indoors.”

Nevertheless, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Garcetti are pursuing a policy of moving as many of the state’s burgeoning homeless population indoors as possible.

The Chronicle also quoted some homeless residents of the city who are worried about shelters overcrowding:

Amber Richmond is tired of berating her homeless shelter bunkmates who cough and don’t cover their mouths. Who use the bathroom and don’t wash their hands. Who sleep a couple of feet from her every night, hacking and sneezing.

She knows San Francisco’s program managers are planning to radically expand the number of homeless beds in the city soon, but she’s afraid that by then she’ll catch the coronavirus at the very place that’s supposed to protect her from the dangers of living outside.

Another homeless resident told the Chronicle: “I’m in danger of that virus by being so close to people. What they really need to do is help us with safe places inside — not some super-crowded shelter. I’m scared, and things are getting very tense out here in the streets.”

Garcetti and Newsom have both struggled with the challenge of a rising homeless population across the state over the past several years. California was “entirely” responsible for the growth of the homeless population nationwide, according to a federal report last year.

Homeless advocates are also concerned more people may become homeless during the pandemic due to the sudden economic shock. They are urging a halt to evictions and foreclosures — which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has adopted.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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