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Gym Shutdown Means No Showers For Homeless

An RV in Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)
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Shuttering libraries and gyms makes sense to minimize the transmission of COVID-19.

But thousands of homeless Angelenos rely on them for basic services, notably showers and internet access.

Officially, about 16,500 people live in vehicles in Los Angeles County. However, experts concede the actual number is likely several times higher.

Angelo Mike is one of those people. He’s lived in his Toyota Camry for more than 16 months. He's had a hard time finding work, something that’s now gotten even harder with the pandemic.

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“I haven’t been able to work from my laptop because the library’s closed. Normally I apply for jobs there.”

Applying for jobs and looking for other openings was typically the first and last thing he would do while on a library’s wi-fi. Since all the libraries closed on Friday, he’s been using his phone, which he can charge with his car.

But finding a place to shower is much harder. Until Sunday, he washed up daily at a Planet Fitness gym in the North San Fernando Valley.

On Monday it was closed. So he took what he called a “bird bath,” washing down with a one-and-a-half liter water bottle. First he wets, then shampoos with body wash, followed by a rinse.

“Then, [I] dry myself off with the towel, and I have a second towel laid down on the driver's seat of my car so I can sit on that without getting it all moldy and musty from the water.”

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He says many are in this position, judging by the number of people who used to show up early to shower at the gym.

Though local governments are placing hand-washing stations at homeless camps, the question of where to shower remains unanswered.