Faced with a novel coronavirus which could prove deadly to the city’s unhoused residents, Los Angeles’s mayor announced Wednesday that city crews are working to turn 42 recreation centers into temporary housing to get LA’s most vulnerable residents safely inside.
The plan is to house 6,000 people, with 1,600 beds opening at 13 locations by Sunday night, for the estimated 11,177 people living in vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters in the city of Los Angeles.
The 13 rec centers are located across the city, from Hollywood to Northridge to Westwood, and the first are scheduled to open as soon as this evening, says Ashley Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the recreation and parks department.
Mayor Eric Garcetti called the accelerated effort to house people “unprecedented.”
“We are taking immediate, urgent action to slow the spread of COVID-19 by helping people who are experiencing homelessness come indoors,” he said.
The city’s overall homeless population totals 36,165, up from nearly 26,000 five years ago, two years after took office.
A COVID-19 case has not been documented in the city’s homeless population, but the disease poses a serious threat, as homeless residents are more likely to have compromised immunity or reside in living situations that prevent recommended social distancing practices. Three homeless residents of Los Angeles County die each day, according to public health data.
The mayor said residents who move into the shelters “will be fed, they will be warm... their lives will be protected.” The first 4,000 residents will be prioritized, he said, based on their age and pre-existing medical conditions.
The announcement was made the night before an emergency hearing is scheduled to take place in federal court as part of a lawsuit accusing the city of negligence in responding to the homelessness crisis.
The mayor said plans to set up the beds are part of the city’s emergency disaster response and had been in the works for 2.5 weeks, before he knew about the court hearing.
The beds be paid for with a mix of city and state dollars, as well as FEMA reimbursements, Garcetti said.
Rodriquez says recreation and parks staffers are leading the shelter effort and will provide beds, offer personal hygiene kits, and make showers accessible at nearby city-owned aquatic facilities. Meals will be provided by other government agencies and nonprofits, she says.
But many homeless residents are very wary of temporary shelters, in part because they fear that beds are too close together and could be conducive to spreading the virus. Asked whether the city would be able to implement critical social distancing measures in the shelters, Garcetti said “distancing will be there,” based on “strict guidance” from public health officials.
The mayor also said tonight that nearly $37 million in newly allocated state funding is “on the way” to Los Angeles to help with homeless housing, plus extra money to buy or lease hotels and motels. Additionally, he said LA will get 660 travel trailers to isolate homeless Angelenos who might contract COVID-19.
The last point-in-time count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found 11,177 people living in vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters in the city of Los Angeles.