We are wearing masks. Practicing self-quarantine. Isolating at home.

But what if you don’t have a home?

The issue of the homeless during a pandemic has only intensified concerns about the transient population of the west valley in general.

Drive under many freeway overpasses this week and you will still see tents, shopping carts, bicycles and a variety of collected detritus.

Homeless encampments are often centers of vermin and disease. Most have no running water to wash hands or bathe. Individuals congregate right next to each other, sharing spaces, tents – and germs.

The threat is real. This week the Union Rescue Mission released that 43 of their 200 homeless residents have tested positive for coronavirus.

What is being done?

The Los Angeles  Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) along with members of Bob Blumenfield’s staff, have managed to relocate some of the homeless into shelters. Almost 40 people are housed at the recreation center on Shoup – they have been taken off the streets and put into state-provided trailers at the park.

The large encampment at Reseda and Clark was disbanded and those people taken to shelter.

Masks are being distributed to as many homeless as possible, and workers are urging them to practice safe distancing.   

The City’s neighborhood-based street cleanup team, CARE, continues to assess the west valley and do what they can.

However, a recent court ruling by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer has made their job more difficult – and our community dirtier.

Fischer ruled that “the seizure and immediate destruction of bulky items only because they are bulky items is unreasonable.” City crews can still confiscate belongings if they are unattended, blocking the sidewalk or are a threat to health and safety.

With their hands somewhat tied, CARE can only do so much. Some health care professionals have even stated that dismantling homeless camps can spread COVID-19 if it’s there and those individuals move to other locations, bringing the virus with them.

Just these week, however, the County named Tiana Murillo of the Strategic Integration Branch  to oversee and coordinate urgent efforts to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness. Murillo is directed to find medical shelter for those experiencing homelessness who have been exposed to the virus and need a place to self-isolate or quarantine. She is instigating Project Roomkey, to urge vulnerable people in high-risk groups to come inside and be safer at home.

To date they have housed more than 900 in temporary housing units.  

The issue remains. How do we get  more homeless into temporary shelters, and where do we house them after this crisis passes?

The park will go back to a community resource and place for neighbors to meet, use the gym, the pool and the fields. Hotels and motels that have been repurposed during the pandemic will want to   reopen for business.

Blumenfield has met with District Court Judge David O. Carter, who is presiding over a lawsuit against the city for failing to protect public health and safety and provide shelters. 

Though Carter initially blocked Orange County’s effort to clear homeless camps, he came around and helped put together a settlement to open more shelters. He visited the west valley to see firsthand the homeless crisis here.  He saw the shopping carts, tents and trash. Blumenfield said, “He not only listened to me, but wholeheartedly agreed that the current situation is unacceptable. He believed that it should be cleaned up – despite the court rulings that make it so difficult.”

Carter could, as a federal judge, help reach a negotiated settlement to supercede prior court rulings, allowing  a certain number of shelters in exchange for enforcement against camping, bulky items, etc. Blumenfield is hoping this could be done by district rather than citywide, making it more of a possibility for the west valley.

For now, many of the homeless camps are still in place. Some do have had portable toilets and portable washing stations set up by LAHSA. 

The temporary measures, like the temporary shelters,  are helpful, but by no means a permanent solution to an ongoing problem.