By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic have been offered temporary housing in recreation centers across Los Angeles. The first 13 operating shelters opened their doors on Friday, March 20.
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced this as an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Palisades Recreation Center has been listed as a designated emergency shelter, prompting community members to express their opposition.
In a letter to Garcetti and Councilmember Mike Bonin, Palisadian Matthew Reiser urged the city to reconsider the use of the Palisades center.
“While we applaud your commitment to serving the public, our family, friends and fellow homeowners strongly object to your current plan,” Reiser’s letter stated. “Please house elsewhere.
“The cleanliness and safety of this family-friendly area must be preserved,” he continued. “Thanks to efforts by our local [task force on homelessness], the homeless population in the Palisades has remained virtually zero. We therefore assume you are planning to import new homeless from elsewhere.”
Additional community concerns include individuals wandering the neighborhoods and noncompliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines
“They’re not prisoners, they can come and go as they’d like,” LAPD Commanding Officer of the West LA Division Captain Jonathan Tom said to the Palisadian-Post. “But LAPD has two officers at each location 24 hours a day, and it would be the same for when Pacific Palisades’ rec center opens up … they also have security on-site.”
Tom added things are still going well at the activated recreation centers on the Westside in Westwood and Cheviot Hills.
“The places are very clean, they seem to be very organized and have not had any issues,” he said. “We have not seen any increase in crime in those areas—their crime is my crime and that’s my primary responsibility.”
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority outreach workers offer housing to individuals they encounter and have been working with service providers to help get recreation centers up and running, according to Communications Specialist Chris Yee.
But the CDC seems to advise otherwise.
The CDC released interim guidance to protect people experiencing homelessness from the spread of COVID-19.
Under prevention measures, the federal agency states that encampments should not be cleared “unless individual housing units are available.” Doing so increases the potential for transmission.
UCLA public health expert and epidemiology professor Timothy Brewer said the benefit of housing individuals is the ability to identify potential cases more quickly, but acknowledged that it would come at the risk of transmission within a congregate setting.
“The optimal thing would be to shelter individuals in individual settings, for example using hotel rooms or other places where each individual can have their own space … so they wouldn’t have to share living quarters or bathroom facilities,” Brewer said to the Post.
“But if you don’t have the resources or spaces available to do that, then you would want to do it in a way that maximizes protection for each individual,” he added. “You would want to have the beds as far apart as possible, you might put temporary barriers such as partitions in between the beds to minimize the risk of spreading infection from person to person.”
Efforts continue across the city and state to address the concern of the homeless population during this time.
“While I support the emergency shelters,” Bonin shared in a statement on Tuesday morning, March 31, “I am pushing hard on what I consider a better solution: housing vulnerable unhoused people in the tens of thousands of vacant hotel rooms in Los Angeles County.”
He added that the city has helped identify hotels and submitted them to the county, touching on the fact that based on public health advice, the best thing would be to have everyone housed in a hotel room, motel room or college dormitory.
“That is optimum from a public health perspective, and it should be our goal,” he wrote. “This program is not moving fast enough, and in a time of crisis, we need immediate action.”
In an email response to the Pacific Palisades Community Council, Lisa Payne, Garcetti’s director of public engagement, said Palisades Recreation Center “is designated for use only if capacity is met at the series of other centers.”
The Palisades Recreation Center still did not have an activation date as the Post went to print Tuesday evening.
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