LA city officials seek to alleviate homelessness

Quincey Dern and Will Sherwood

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant economic hardship in Los Angeles, the homeless population has increased by 12.7%, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services. City officials and social service organizations, such as Homeless Health Care (HHC),  are currently focusing their resources to fight the dual crises of homelessness and COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made fighting homelessness one of his top priorities statewide, proposing a $720 million plan to combat homelessness at the start of 2020.

Newsom also launched Project Roomkey, an initiative that provides hotel rooms to those who would otherwise have to live on the streets. Local officials said their goal for Project Roomkey is to move approximately 15,000 people into hotel rooms and prioritize higher-risk individuals in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Izzy Ahn ’22 has been working to mitigate the effects of the homeless crisis throughout the summer.

“It’s important to protect the homeless from the virus because they are exposed more from not having a place to live,” Ahn said. “I’m planning a drive to help the homeless because they have less access to masks and hand sanitizer and such equipment.”

On the local level, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti battled the issue of homelessness by filing an emergency order in an effort to strengthen protections for LA residents 10 days prior to Newsom’s statewide moratorium. Garcetti’s order suspended Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shut-offs for non-payment, as well as an eviction moratorium for the city.

“Garcetti works closely with us in our many programs helping the homeless in Los Angeles,” HHC board member Jennifer Hyde said. “Our mayor has been supportive in our services that we daily provide.”

While many social service agencies closed when the COVID-19 hit LA, HHC has remained open and continues to provide resources for those experiencing homelessness. HHC has seven programs of service, including the use of outreach workers. These workers visit the streets and assist people in need of housing by providing food, supplies and emergency help.

“We have several service programs,” Hyde said. “The ReFresh Spot on Skid Row provides hand washing stations, showers, clean restrooms and laundry facilities to the homeless.  The ReFresh Spot is seeing over 1,000 people a day, and we are in need of women’s and children’s garments. Monthly donations of as little as $10 will help so many individuals in our programs.”