The pandemic mania now rivals the actual Coronavirus outbreak as people panic shop and hoard like The Walking Dead have taken to the streets and the only known protection from becoming a zombie is toilet paper. Those who didn’t flock to the stores and buy a 20-year supply of paper products now frantically search for the one package that someone didn’t see. As we self-isolate and sit in our homes, worried about personal hygiene and when we’ll be able to see our friends and family again, the homeless population face an even greater challenge than before. Social distancing in homeless shelters and camps is not an easy feat. Some states are trying to do what they can to help the homeless while also prevent further spread of the virus, but is it enough – or are they causing more harm?
In Los Angeles, which has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to house 6,000 displaced people in recreation centers located inside residential neighborhoods. “Too many Angelenos lack a basic necessity that will help most of us get through this crisis: a home,” said Mayor Garcetti in a press release. “We are taking immediate, urgent action to slow the spread of COVID-19 by helping people who are experiencing homelessness come indoors.”
As Liberty Nation’s Sarah Cowgill explained, “The ironic and incredibly inconvenient truth is California leads the way, adding an implausible 16.4% of unsheltered families, veterans, and elder Americans attempting to survive on the streets.”
Garcetti’s plan includes adding 1,600 emergency shelter beds to be located in 13 city recreation centers to soon reach the 6,000-bed goal. He has activated the Disaster Service Worker program, which will put some city employees in a temporary position to help create the shelters. However, what the good-intentioned mayor is doing may even be against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) regulations.
The CDC published a guideline on dealing with homelessness during the Coronavirus pandemic, which says outdoor encampments are safer for social distancing but can be more dangerous depending on weather and availability of needed supplies. However, it also suggested it is not a good idea to house too many people too close together as it will enhance the threat of spreading the virus:
- Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.
- Encourage people staying in encampments to set up their tents/sleeping quarters with at least 12 feet x 12 feet of space per individual.
- Ensure nearby restroom facilities have functional water taps, are stocked with hand hygiene materials (soap, drying materials) and bath tissue, and remain open to people experiencing homelessness 24 hours per day.
- If toilets or handwashing facilities are not available nearby, provide access to portable latrines with handwashing facilities for encampments of more than 10 people.
So, if outdoor encampment procedures require at least 12 feet of space for individuals, what happens when you put dozens in one facility, as is suggested by the California mayor as well as other lawmakers across the country?
The 2019 numbers put the displaced count in Los Angeles county at 58,936 – larger than many smaller cities in the nation. According to the United States Interagency Council on Homeless website, California has the highest number of homeless at 151,278. New York comes in second with 92,091, followed by Florida with 28,328.
Finding permanent homes for these people would be a challenge without the COVID-19 issues, but factor in social distancing and this brings the task to a whole new level of unachievable. Is it better to at least temporarily house the displaced during the “lockdown” or try to accommodate them in encampments where weather is agreeable, as California usually is at this time of year?
Read more from Kelli Ballard.
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