As California continues to enforce the stay at home orders, individuals who do not have a safe space to self-isolate may find it difficult to follow the quarantine protocols. The homeless population continues to be a grave concern for county officials statewide. 

In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $150 million in emergency funds to combat the spread of the virus in areas with a high volume of homeless.

According to the executive order, $100 million will go towards emergency shelter for local governments and $50 million to other housing options, such as mobile trailers, motels, and hotels. 

The golden state as a whole continues to face scrutiny from politicians over its handling of homelessness, after it saw a 21,000 increase in 2019. Now, more than ever, the issue is under a microscope due to the threat of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Los Angeles contains about 59,000 individuals experiencing homelessness, according to the Los Angeles County Homelessness and Housing Map.

These individuals are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 because of underlying health problems they may have, such as HIV/AIDS, lung disease, malnutrition, mental health issues, substance abuse, and skin infections, according to the U.S National Library of Medicine. 

Los Angeles County is faced with the challenge of finding an urgent solution for the homeless without shelter. In North Hollywood and Studio City, the NoHoHome Alliance organization remains fully operational. 

The organization is a drop-in service program that is held on church campuses, such as St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. 

“Every day we get up, we put on the gloves, we put on masks, and we try to improve the situation,” Pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Stephanie Jaeger said. 

The program provides its participants with food, hygienic supplies, clothing, and other additional services. Recently, the organization transitioned how they serve members of the community, with all services now being provided outdoors.

Food and hygiene have been two particular services in high demand, Jaeger explained. NoHoHome Alliance is now providing grab and go lunches as well as mobile showers for the homeless. 

“I think it is really important at this time of the pandemic that we all figure out how we can all live generously,” Jaeger said. 

Many participants of the program shared their concerns about not being able to obtain masks. Recently, NoHoHome Alliance has begun to hand out masks to not only their volunteers but to the homeless as well. 

Some volunteers are no longer able to help in-person because they are at high risk of contracting the virus due to their age, but they are doing what they can to help, such as sewing masks. 

“Everybody who can is doing what they can, and that is how we work. We do what we can with what we have,” Jaeger said. 

Pomona Residents Concerned About Local Hotel Used As Quarantine Site 

Throughout Los Angeles County, cities are finding ways to keep the homeless population safe from COVID-19. Pomona is one of those cities, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles that’s been proactive in addressing homelessness. 

Project Roomkey is a collaboration of several agencies to help contain the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless. In Project Roomkey, both the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative and the state of California are working together to obtain motels and hotels to be used as a facility where individuals can self-isolate. 

This is one of three projects the county of Los Angeles is undergoing to contain the spread of COVID-19 in high-volume homeless areas. 

In March, the Pomona Fairplex Sheraton Hotel came to an agreement with the county to transform the hotel into a quarantine site for those experiencing homelessness. The goal is to provide housing for those with high risk or flu-like symptoms, but do not need hospitalization. 

However, this action came with backlash from the community, and Pomona isn’t the only city feeling the friction. On April 6, a similar agreement between Orange County and the owner of Ayres Hotel in Laguna Woods fell through after residents protested its use. 

Protesters cited the hotel being used as a self-isolation facility would be an endangerment to the surrounding community, which is primarily populated by seniors. 

Councilmember Robert Torres from the sixth district, which oversees parts of Fairplex, had no say in the plans of creating the 247-bed Sheraton Hotel as a quarantine site, he said. 

Although Torres supports helping the homeless and opening whatever facilities they have to mitigate the spread of the virus, he received many complaints from residents surrounding Fairplex, he explained. 

“I got so many complaints from everyday residents of Pomona, and for people who are concerned, there are a lot of lingering questions, like ‘why the city of Pomona, why not other cities like Beverly Hills?’ How many people are going to be coming into our community?” Torres said. “I don’t want Pomona to be this major hub, because I am nervous about that.”

Even though Torres has concerns about the Sheraton Hotel’s transformation, he remains optimistic. 

“I have seen many individuals coming together helping businesses, businesses helping emergency responders, so I feel optimistic because when times are tough, I see people come together,” Torres said. 

The city of Pomona has seen 43 cases of COVID-19, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health. 

Efforts to Combat COVID-19 Spread Within Pomona’s Homeless Population

Hope for Home is a shelter in Pomona providing services to individuals in need of housing. Although the shelter is temporarily closed to any new participants, they continue to serve the 135 individuals inside of its accommodation.

The shelter has been in service for a year and a half, and the housing program was a significant investment for the city of Pomona, with a $10 million initiative to build the shelter. 

The shelter is a collaborative effort with other organizations, such as Volunteers of America, Tri-City Mental Health Center, East Valley Health services, Prototypes, and the Goodwill. 

“When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis we have to go outside of our city, most cities now are dealing with a crisis they have never dealt with before,” Homeless Programs Supervisor of the city of Pomona Neighborhood Service Department, Donyielle Holley, said. “In Pomona, we have done a really good job of connecting with the county of Los Angeles.”

Hope for Home, along with other outreach services has adjusted the shelter to keep its participants and volunteers safe in accordance with state mandates. 

“We went down the list and every protocol that we could implement, we implemented,” Holley said. “[We are] encouraging participants not to leave the site, unless they need an essential service.”

Volunteers have spaced out the beds six feet away from one another and recommend inhabitants sleep in a head to toe position. Wearing gloves, masks, and the six-feet social distancing rule is also part of the protocols.

Every participant and staff member have their temperature checked every day as part of a precautionary screening, ensuring everyone has been cleared of any signs of COVID-19. 

Looking to the future, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and Los Angeles County announced on April 7 they are working to expand the current shelter system. 

“The other cities that are dealing with the same crisis that we are all dealing with, this is the time we need to truly collaborate with nearby cities as well as collaborate with the county, state, and federal government,” Holley said. “As horrible as this is, I think, for the most part, it allows us to work together to address this, and I think if we do work together, we will get through this, hopefully soon.”

Written ByMaydeen Merino

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