Thursday, March 26, 2020

VSA Files Amicus Brief in L.A. Alliance Suit against the City and County of Los Angeles

Here is an excerpt from the VSA brief:

VSA urges the Court to order the city and county of Los Angeles to focus all temporary housing for the homeless on structures, buildings and tents that allow for ample and enforceable self-quarantine.  

As the president of the non-profit VSA for the last ten years I have been deeply involved in addressing the exponential increase in the homeless population in my community.  At one point I was the co-chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee and currently serve as a Community Officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council. I hold a BA in psychology from UCLA and an MA in Urban Studies from the CORO Foundation/Occidental College. On a personal note, for many years I watched as my parents dealt with my drug- and alcohol-addicted younger brother, who would have been homeless had they not converted their garage for him to live in for most of his life. 

As you know, the City of Los Angeles is currently re-purposing city recreation centers for use as temporary shelters for the homeless. 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 either mentally ill, substance addicted and/or 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). One has only to look at the pandemonium at Third and Rose in Venice on March 24th in the following video to see that social distancing is not being observed: 

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. A larger proportion than the general population have underlying conditions, which puts them more at risk to COVID-19: heart disease, hypertension and/or diabetes.

The result is that placing them in recreation centers on cots on six-foot centers will assure that the virus will spread quickly among the homeless as well as the caregivers who at this time are not expected to have the necessary personal protective gear needed to prevent transmission. It also will put those over 60 and the high percentage that are immuno-compromised or have underlying conditions at greater risk than other options. (I would add that this analysis applies equally to Bridge Housing facilities, which are large communal living facilities, with no possibility to self-quarantine.) 

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

All the homeless, but especially those over 60 and/or those with underlying conditions or immuno-compromised systems, should be given a priority in rooms in motels, hotels, student dormitories or military-style tents to self-quarantine. 

At UCLA alone, a student housing blog reports there are beds for over 10,000 students, many of which are empty due to the university’s closure. There are thousands of beds at other Los Angeles-area colleges and universities, such USC, Loyola, Pepperdine, etc. These institutions are likely to be closed through the end of August, possibly longer. Students remaining in campus housing may be moved all together in one or two dormitories, freeing up other dormitory rooms for the homeless during this crisis. Major institutions such as UCLA and USC have student health centers which are not now seeing students, which could be moved into action to serve the homeless. Either dormitory kitchens or local, under-utilized restaurants could deliver daily meals. Campus security along with the LAPD could help maintain social distancing. 

Similarly, military-style tents set up on 10-foot or even 20-foot centers on the playing fields or parking lots of stadiums, such as the Rose Bowl and Coliseum, with plenty of bathrooms and even showers in players dressing rooms, and food concessions, would be preferable to recreation centers which have little bathroom and shower capacity.

Of course, the best solution would be the State’s lease of thousands of now-empty low-priced motel and hotel rooms to allow for self-quarantine, especially for those with the virus or those over 60 and/or with underlying conditions.

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