Viewpoint: The Homeless, the Coronavirus and City Response

This hand-washing station was placed under the 405 on Venice next to the homeless encampment.

Three things happened at about the same time this past week: 1) my adult daughter, who drives by the 405 underpass at Venice, sent a photo of porta-potty hand-washing station for the homeless that the City had placed at the location; 2) the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homeless sent out a notice that the People Concern, which helps sponsor the two Task Force social workers, who help the homeless find services, had pulled the workers from the street until further notice; and 3) I remembered Dr. Drew Pinsky warning last summer on an ABC radio show that “the city’s homeless situation and sanitation crisis are out of hand and politicians are doing nothing to stop it.”

L.A. City is placing 165 hand-washing stations near large camps around the city and Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin paid for about 40 handwashing stations, using his office budget.

Will clean hands help prevent the coronavirus in the homeless, who are located in underpasses throughout the City?

A March 18 VOX story (“Bad Health Conditions and the Lack of Shelter Make Homeless People Vulnerable to Covid-19”) reported “Lack of health care coupled with malnutrition and bad hygiene put homeless people at risk of contracting contagious and chronic illnesses.

“The rates of respiratory diseases, which is a major risk factor for Covid-19 patients, are particularly high among this population. A study that observed a hospital in Washington found that 32 percent of those hospitalized for respiratory diseases were homeless, compared with 6.5 percent of all patients hospitalized.”

Additionally, this virus tends to be most severe for seniors, and the New York Times reported that about 31 percent of homeless people in the United States in 2014 were over 50.

Last summer Pinsky warned that officials were not reacting to an eventual epidemic among the homeless. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “I feel like I’m on a train track waving at the train and the train is going to go off the bridge. The bridge is out.”

Pinsky, a graduate of Amherst and USC and a Pasadena resident, has long argued that it is not a homeless epidemic as much as it is a mental health problem.

As long as officials allow those with mental illness to determine if they need help, nothing will change. He argues the criteria for gravely ill needs to be redefined and the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which took away family’s rights to help those in need, have to be changed.

“As a physician I’m incensed. What does the body count need to be before they will change their rhetoric? It’s out of control. Thousands of people are dying. What’s it need to be? 10,000? A hundred thousand?” Pinsky said. (Editor’s note: 3,612 deaths were reported in L.A. County from 2014 to 2018, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of the coroner’s data.)

“Housing is part of it, of course,” Pinsky said. “They need a place to go. But you’ve got to address the mental illness and addiction that’s underlying this and get them to the facilities. We have no ability to do that.”

On March 18, L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city, through the Red Cross, would provide 6,000 emergency beds at recreation centers. (Los Angeles has an estimated 27,000 of the county’s 60,000 homeless people.)

Even though Garcetti is opening up shelters in recreation centers, there are unanswered questions: How do you get the homeless to go inside or will they be allowed to stay on the streets? How do Rec Centers enforce social distancing? And what happens to first responders and medical staff if they are called to help those dying on the streets?

One might ask why Garcetti made the Rec Center announcement on March 18. Was it out of coronavirus concern for people who have been living on the streets?

Most likely it was because L.A. City and County officials were set to meet with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter on March 19 regarding  a case filed last week alleging that city and county officials have failed in their duty to protect public health and safety.

Citing the havoc that COVID-19 could cause among the homeless population, Carter called for an emergency status conference, according to the L.A. Times.

One PPTFH volunteer told Circling the News that when he gave several local homeless people information about the winter shelters: “I was freaked out that two of the individuals engaged had not even heard about the virus.”

Many of the homeless have compromised immune systems and are unaware of the the threat of the coronavirus and the steps that need to be taken to avoid it.

 

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2 Responses to Viewpoint: The Homeless, the Coronavirus and City Response

  1. Bruce Schwartz says:

    Our leaders are a day late and a dollar short! Where were they for a decade when this homeless crisis was growing under their noses and they played politics and would not go to court and get relief for an injunction that exasperated the homeless problem to where it is today. Now we have a pandemic and their lack of leadership for a decade has put the homeless population at high risk as vectors of the virus to themselves and the general population.

  2. M. Butte says:

    THERE IS A SOLUTION TO THE HOMELESS CRISIS!!! and it is not building low cost housing at $700K per head.
    Step 1. Over turn the current law that say’s it’s legal to live on the side walk with a tent.
    Step2. Open up closed military bases in California to deal with mentally and physically ill. Structure is already there, all you have to do is staff the facility.
    Step 3. Take LA county land that is currently not in use and turn it into homeless camp sites. Staff it, with three police officers, for there protection.
    Homeless crises solved.

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