With the coronavirus crisis spreading across the region, Mayor Eric Garcetti this evening announced a sweeping plan to bring thousands of homeless individuals off the streets.
Speaking at his daily 5:15 p.m. media briefing, Garcetti unveiled what he called an “unprecedented effort to move folks to safety”: an initiative to get 6,000 homeless individuals out of encampments and into beds at 42 city recreation centers in the near future. He said the work will begin immediately.
“By the end of this week we will bring more than 1,600 beds online in 13 recreation centers. That will be the first phase,” Garcetti stated.
The locations were not immediately revealed.
The work is being done in partnership with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city Department of Transportation, and the Los Angeles Police Department. The beds are being provided by the American Red Cross.
The beds and care will be paid for by a combination of city funds, state money, and federal dollars provided through FEMA reimbursements.
The mayor said that LAHSA will identify the 4,000 individuals on the street who are currently most at risk, whether because of age or underlying medical conditions. These individuals will have priority for admittance to the centers.
The mayor said he expects that people will accept the offer of help.
“A lot of people have said, what if they won’t go?” Garcetti stated. “I want to say very clearly, people on the streets, by and large, the great majority of them, do not want to die on the streets. I would venture to say all of them. And so this isn’t about forcing people onto the bus. This is about letting people know if you stay out here, you are at great risk of potentially dying.”
Garcetti said that, so far, none of the recorded coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County have been connected to unhoused individuals. However, he added, “We know there are probably cases out there and this could change at any moment.”
Before entering centers, people will go through a triage process with county health workers to be sure they have not contracted COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms would be taken to medical care. According to Garcetti, there will still be an effort to maintain social distancing inside the recreation centers.
While this will be a massive effort, it will also only be a proverbial drop in the bucket. The city has approximately 36,000 homeless individuals, according to the 2019 LAHSA Homeless Count. There are nearly 60,000 unhoused individuals in L.A. County.
The beds at recreation centers are separate from the temporary emergency “Bridge Home” shelters that are springing up across the city. Garcetti this evening said 12 Bridge Home centers have already opened, providing a total of 813 beds. Another 14 projects are scheduled to open by July.
Between the coming Bridge Home facilities and the just-announced recreation center plan, Garcetti said a total of 7,000 people could get off the streets.
Other steps have already been taken to keep people in encampments protected from the spread of the disease. Garcetti said 300 hand washing stations and 120 mobile bathrooms have been deployed to encampments, and outreach teams have been trained to push social distancing among those living in tents. Rules requiring homeless individuals to take down tents during the day have been relaxed during the crisis.
Additionally, Garcetti pointed to the $1 billion coming from the state to respond to the pandemic. He said that $150 million of that will go to helping unhoused individuals, and of that, nearly $37 million will be directed toward Los Angeles.
He also said 660 travel trailers will come to Los Angeles County, and could be used to isolate homeless individuals who contract the virus.
The move was immediately praised by City Council president Nury Martinez.
“In turn, the City’s legislative body, the Los Angeles City Council will lead in support of this effort to immediately provide emergency shelter and services to thousands of unhoused elderly residents and others vulnerable to the coronavirus currently living on our streets,” Martinez said in a prepared statement.