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Officials Scrambling To Get Homeless People Off The Streets

Tents lined on San Pedro Street, in Skid Row, Los Angeles. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)
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In Los Angeles, public and private service providers are working on bringing homeless people inside as quickly as possible.

Last week L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he plans to open 42 shelters using city recreation centers, to provide up to 6,000 new emergency shelter beds.

“There are already about 500 of those beds set up over the weekend, and many more to come online yet this week,” said Doug Guthrie, who directs the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, on a conference call Monday.

Guthrie said the biggest challenge for those shelters was staffing. He said the city anticipates that 24/7 operation of the shelters will need about 1,600 staff workers. They'll largely come from the ranks of non-essential city personnel sworn in as disaster service workers.

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At the county level, Supervisor Kathryn Barger testified in a court hearing last Thursday that officials are readying 4,200 additional shelter beds on county property. “This is only the beginning of what we are doing,” she said.

Barger also said the county has secured 2,000 “isolation” beds that can be used to quarantine homeless residents who test positive for COVID-19. Lawyers for the county later clarified these spaces were hotel rooms.

At Thursday's court hearing, the Salvation Army also offered up 27 storefronts in Los Angeles and Orange County that could potentially be used as shelter spaces, as well as warehouse space in Bell, and its youth camp in Calabasas.

The plan to move people into shelters is not without its critics. Also at the court hearing was public interest attorney Carol Sobel. She underscored that moving particularly vulnerable into close quarters at shelters (which are basically just big rooms with cots) could make it easier for the virus to spread. “It’s just the opposite of what should be happening,” said Sobel.

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For that matter, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore expressed a similar concern, saying in court “the sheltering system… will also have challenges in regards to social distancing. And I do not intend for LAPD to be the enforcers of social distancing. We're not carrying tape measures around nor do we expect to use them.”