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'If I get it, I die': homeless residents say inhumane shelter conditions will spread coronavirus

Southern California homeless shelter residents say long-running unsanitary and inhumane conditions now put them at severe risk of death amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

As California officials this week urged millions of residents to stay inside and avoid physical contact to slow the spread of Covid-19, people living in several overcrowded homeless shelters in Orange county say they continue to sleep in rows of beds within a few feet of Los Angeles News each other, and that they often lack basic hygiene supplies and amenities.

The residents report a variety of serious problems, including empty soap dispensers, a lack of toilet paper, no hot water, broken sinks, no working thermometers, blood-stained walls and infrequent cleaning. They worry the shelters are ill-prepared to cope once the spread of the virus intensifies in the US.

“It’s appalling. One person gets a cough and everyone gets it,” said Wendy Powitzky, 49, who has been living at the La Mesa shelter in Anaheim in Southern California for months. “We’ve already been passing around a standard cold.”


Some days, the soap containers in the bathroom go empty: “Most people don’t have their own. So I guess everyone else is just washing their hands with water.”

California has the largest homeless population in the US, with more than 40,000 people living in shelters on a given night. Advocates and shelter residents have warned for years that many of the facilities are underregulated and underfunded and that conditions in some may pose significant health hazards. Amid the coronavirus crisis, they fear, those circumstances could make the spread of the virus in shelters near-inevitable.

What’s more, some in shelters have been waiting for years for more permanent housing due to a severe shortage of affordable homes for low-income renters. If residents leave now, they could lose their spot and also face police harassment if they sleep outside. Despite these risks, some are fleeing the facilities to avoid the virus and returning to encampments, even as officials urge people to seek shelter.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Garrow, who spent more than a year investigating conditions in local shelters for a 2019 report documenting the unsafe and toxic environments. “If coronavirus impacts people in shelters, it’s going to spread like wildfire.”

Risk death inside or arrest outside: ‘Where do we go?’
Homeless organizations have been sounding the alarm for weeks, warning that the coronavirus Press Release Distribution Services In Los Angeles could cause catastrophic harm to unhoused communities amid the absence of a coordinated strategy to aid people already struggling to survive in tents and overcrowded shelters. Officials in Los Angeles moved on Tuesday to temporarily stop some of the sweeps of encampments due to coronavirus.

Residents in four homeless facilities in Orange County, the region Garrow studied, shared with the Guardian photos and accounts of long-running problems that have sparked new fears amid the corona crisis.

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