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CDC Urges Cities To Stop Clearing Homeless Encampments, Saying It Could Increase COVID-19 Spread

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Homeless encampments on Skid Row, photographed on June 30, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (James Bernal for KPCC) (James Bernal)
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Last week, Los Angeles leaders approved increased protections for homeless Angelenos in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. But cleanups of homeless encampments, known as sweeps, weren't officially halted.

Now, the CDC has issued a simple guideline for how local governments should conduct those sweeps: don't — unless individual housing units can be provided.

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers,” CDC officials wrote. “This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Federal health experts had several other recommendations for individuals experiencing homelessness and outreach workers, including:

  • Encourage people in encampments to set up their sleeping quarters with at least a 12-feet-by-12-feet buffer per person.
  • Keep nearby restrooms in working order, open 24/7 and stocked with soap, toilet paper and paper towels.
  • If there are no nearby restrooms, provide access to portable toilets and handwashing stations for encampments of more than 10 people.
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