Coronavirus: Community Leaders Demand Answers as L.A. Moves Homeless to Rec Centers

Palisades recreation center (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)
Joel Pollak / Breitbart News

Community leaders are demanding answers from city officials as Los Angeles continues to implement a plan to move homeless people indoors into recreation centers in residential areas during the coronavirus outbreak.

Breitbart News reported Monday that some centers have already opened, and the city is providing shuttles to move homeless people indoors, apparently in an effort to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus in informal encampments, and to provide more “social distancing” in existing shelters.

In a letter dated Mar. 21 obtained by Breitbart News and written by the Pacific Palisades Community Council to local officials — including City Councilmember Mike Bonin; Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Mike Shull; and L.A. Unified School District Board Member Nick Melvoin — leaders from the community suggest that the plan has not been adequately explained.

“The decision to quickly house and provide services for homeless people in a grave public health crisis is reasonable and necessary for public health and safety. We support such prudent action,” the letter begins.
However, the community council raises a list of questions:

  1. How will this impact the schedules of programs (present and future) at the site? Think long term. We don’t know how long the virus will remain a public health emergency (weeks, months or years).
  2. What limits on movement in and out of the shelter will there be? Lock down or free to come and go? This is a public health and safety issue.
  3. Will there be public health services for the shelter: medical treatment, testing, and strict quarantining those who test positive or who show symptoms of the virus?
  4. Who will provide food, clothing, and medicines?
  5. Who will staff the shelter? City or County? Red Cross? United Way? Hospital?
  6. Who will be coming to use the shelter? Local homeless, or from greater L.A. or beyond? How many?
  7. Who will enforce the health and safety protocols? City health staff, LAPD, RAP or local site staff? Will LAPD provide 24-hour security?
  8. What are the protocols? Social distancing? Separation or partition by gender, age (youth), mental health, drug dependency, danger to themselves and others? Will alcohol, illegal drugs and paraphernalia be confiscated and prohibited? What will be done with shelter user’s personal belongings? Cleaning and disinfecting?
  9. Transportation in and out of homeless people, staff and supplies? Will parking be cordoned off from public use?
  10. Will the whole site be shut down for the shelter’s use? No concurrent uses?
  11. Will community volunteers be allowed to help, and be properly trained? Can people make or donate supplies?
  12. How will you determine when the crisis is over? Where will the homeless people go? Will they just walk out, or will they be transported to some place where they have shelter and services? Who will do the transporting and shelter?

The letter concludes: “The Palisades community needs assurances that there is a detailed plan, that it’s shared with the community, that it’s safe for all, and that it really is a temporary shelter.”

There are currently eight confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pacific Palisades, according to Los Angles County.

Breitbart News has learned that a popular local recreation center near a playground (above) is reportedly to be used as one of the temporary homeless shelters, with a capacity of 158 beds, placed six feet apart.

Police will be assigned to watch the center, but will not force people to stay there.

The center is near the commercial center of the community.

An email from Mayor Eric Garcetti to city employees on Monday, obtained by Breitbart News, confirms that city employees are being asked to staff the shelters.

“As we face this unprecedented crisis of COVID-19, we need you to answer the call and uphold your duty to give back to our communities in new roles and take on unfamiliar tasks — from helping our homeless neighbors to lending a hand to seniors and other high-risk Angelenos,” Garcetti wrote.

Breitbart News observed city employees working at a shelter in Cheviot Hills on Monday.

As Breitbart News and other news sources have reported, while some homeless people feel safer inside the new shelters, others have expressed reservations, and some do not want to move — especially as they would have to leave most of their belongings behind.

One source who works with the city on homeless issues told Breitbart News: “Everybody’s doing it, everybody’s walking through the motions, but I do think there’s some rethinking going on.”

There is also the fear that homeless people might be more prone to coronavirus indoors.

An essay published by Dr. Richard Hobday on Medium earlier this month argues that the lesson of the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century is that patients do best when treated outdoors, in the presence of sunshine and fresh air.

Some have suggested erecting tents or building temporary shelters on unused public property, such as parking lots near the beach that are often empty outside the summer season.

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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