What It's Like To Be Homeless During A Pandemic

Homeless tents in Downtown Los Angeles (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

For the tens of thousands of people living outside in Los Angeles, the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic is the amplification of a world that already conspires every day to end your life prematurely. The virus is only one danger that comes with the pandemic.

As the rhythms and routines of the housed have been disrupted, so, too, have those of the unhoused and the precariously housed.

Weeks ago, if you were outside, you might have been able to seek refuge from a rainy night inside the dining room of a 24-hour fast food restaurant. Tonight you are left out in the cold.

"Everything's closed until this, I guess finally goes away, if it ever does," said Douglas Julliano, who lives in a camp alongside a busy street in Echo Park. He's 54 years old, and said he graduated from nearby Belmont High School in Westlake.

Same, but different

The once reliable revenue stream that may have come from panhandling at a freeway exit or a city street corner has atomized along with public life.

Not that you would be able to easily spend the cash, given the grocery stores aisles have been picked over for weeks. Moreover, the library is closed, meaning you now have no way to charge your phone, or check your email and get in touch with your case manager to ask if that motel voucher has come through yet.

As for the authorities, they're now encouraging you to go to a shelter with lots of other people in relatively close quarters, even with social distancing. You know that's not a good place to go to avoid the virus, but at least it's dry from the rain.

In any case, the tiny bottle of hand sanitizer the outreach workers may have given you while telling you about the new shelter is certainly not enough. The encampment cleanup teams, however, may still be coming to take away your tent.

Just one more thing

If anything, the pandemic simply underscores what already was. Those who have nothing continue to have nothing. Any help that's coming will likely not meet the requisite amount of need.

"It's just one more thing. I don't trip on it, you know. I don't associate with a lot of people. I'm pretty nonchalant," said Julliano of the virus. He said he's been outside for about five years, since his RV was impounded.

Julliano described how a city sanitation team had confiscated his tent in the morning, along with those of two of his neighbors.

Despite the global pandemic and advice from the CDC that says to leave homeless camps in place, Los Angeles continues planning encampment cleanups that can destroy property crucial for homeless people's survival. The address of Julliano's camp had been on that morning's list of cleanup sites.

"They said they'll be here next week to do the same thing, and that maybe we should get it through our heads to move somewhere else," said Julliano.

As he finished that sentence, a large man in an even larger white pickup truck pulled over next to the camp, laid on his horn for almost 5 seconds, and gave Julliano two middle fingers before speeding off.

Julliano said he's learned to tune out the noise and horns from the street. Ultimately, the virus is just one more thing that could hurt him.