By Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been on the “cutting edge” of local leaders who have implemented strict shutdowns in the name of fighting the coronavirus and protecting the public. Politicians like Garcetti claim that they must coerce residents to remain in their homes for weeks, or months, on end in order to ease the burden on hospitals and healthcare workers.
But is it worth it when Garcetti is refusing to “lockdown” one of the most at risk populations in Los Angeles? While millions of Los Angeles residents shelter in place, the city’s nearly 36,000 homeless residents continue to wander the streets and go about their business.
Just a few days ago I took a drive down to Skid Row in Los Angeles, where nearly 50% of the area’s inhabitants are homeless — living in tents or on the street. Whereas the rest of Los Angeles is a ghost town, Skid Row looks like it’s any other normal day.
I was shocked to see that the city had not enforced any of their social distancing laws in the neighborhood. Tents were packed tightly together. Thousands of homeless individuals were drinking, socializing, and doing drugs on the sidewalk and in crowded parks. It looked as if the city was on lockdown … except for Skid Row.
Just last week, police officers in Malibu arrested a paddle boarder for violating the county’s ordinances that closed the beaches. It appears that in Los Angeles only taxpayers are on lockdown.
As irritating as it is to a taxpayer, the failure to enforce the law against the homeless is also a massive public health crisis. If there are so few ventilators as our politicians claim, the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community would be a public health disaster for the city and the state. In fact, the state of California has over 150,000 people who are “experiencing homelessness,” according to the federal government.
You might be thinking, “I’m not homeless. I don’t interact with homeless people. This doesn’t matter to me.” But it does. In fact, a spread of COVID-19 within California’s homeless community could occupy thousands of ventilators. Homeless individuals in California are one of the most at-risk communities to contract serious complications with COVID-19.
According to the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, homeless individuals have rates of underlying conditionsat nearly twice the rate of housed individuals in the United States. Diabetes, heart attacks, HIV, and pulmonary complications are all afflictions that greatly impact the homeless community and are disastrous when combined with COVID-19.
According to California Governor Gavin Newsom, over 60,000 homeless individuals in California could contractCOVID-19. Newsom also said California has access to only 4,252 ventilators. If the virus is truly as dangerous as our politicians have led us to believe, the math doesn’t add up and California could be in a very precarious position soon.
So when will Los Angeles act? Is it worth shutting down the city’s economy without making a concerted effort to move all homeless individuals off the streets?
Perhaps the city should focus their efforts on stopping a real major public health disaster from crippling our city instead of arresting paddle boarders and beachgoers.