Tuesday, March 24, 2020

City Recreation Centers as Corona Virus Incubators

This is the letter I sent today to the members of the Westside Regional Alliance of Councils (WRAC) - that is, neighborhood and community councils in council districts 5 and 11 - in response to the question of the conversion of city recreation centers to homeless shelters:

Ms. Zar,

I would like to share with WRAC members my thoughts on the question of the re-purposing of City recreation centers as homeless shelters in response to the corona virus pandemic.

As some of you know, I have been involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community of Venice for many years.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council's Homelessness Committee.  I also hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and for many years watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had not my parents converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life.

While the concept of converting recreation centers to shelters appears appropriate in this crisis, it is contraindicated by the nature of the population itself.

At least 50%, and possibly a higher percentage, of the homeless population simply lacks the required self discipline to abide by any social distancing protocols.  Over 50% are mentally ill, substance addicted and/or are anti-authoritarian, or just too young to accept the seriousness of the situation (as we saw with partying students on the beach in Florida recently).

Also, the very nature of living on the streets for prolonged periods, with addiction, poor hygiene and sanitation, and lack of medical care, have rendered many in this population immuno-compromised.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six foot centers will certainly assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who will not have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 members and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised at greater risk than other options.
I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities.

Apparently the County Sheriff understands the need to thin out jail populations to slow the spread of the virus in jails, but the Mayor and Councilman Bonin proceed in contradiction to the obvious, packing homeless into Bridge Housing and recreation centers.

As I was quoted in the LA Times recently, the homeless, especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions, should be given a priority in motels, hotels (and possibly empty student dormitories) to self quarantine.

In light of all the information coming out of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, self-quarantine for everyone is the only path to slow the spread and contain the virus.  This is not possible in recreation centers or Bridge Housing.

Thank you for your consideration,

Mark Ryavec, Community Officer, Venice Neighborhood Council