Coronavirus: Concerns mount over outbreak within LA homeless community

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, concerns mount over a COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless in Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been major concern about a COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless in Los Angeles. Now, there is concern those fears are becoming reality.

At the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, ambulances escorted some of the most vulnerable.

CEO Reverend Andy Bales said over the next three days, they will cut their capacity by half, from 1,000 people to just 500.

"Every floor of our mission, we're going to decrease the population to give more social distancing for the safety of all of our guests," Bales said.

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Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, reported 472 new cases of COVID-19 in L.A. county, although some of those cases were also reported Tuesday by Long Beach and Pasadena. The new cases pushed the countywide total to 10,496.

Included in those cases are 28 homeless people, six of whom were residing in area shelters, prompting them to be isolated and others who had contact with them to be placed in quarantine.

The Union Rescue Mission is the hub of homelessness in downtown L.A. It serves 1,000 guests when it's open.

The drastic cuts come just days after one staff member died from coronavirus and five others were infected.

"Our teammate Gerald, who was a former guest and then recovered in our recovery program, became an apprentice van driver and then a van driver, so he was a fellow teammate," Bales said. "Fought bravely for 11 days on a ventilator but then perished."

The residents are being moved in groups. The most frail are being sent to private lodging and families are moving to other rescue facilities.

But in a city where homeless housing is already hard to come by, Bales is concerned this will aggravate the situation even further.

Rows of tents already line the sidewalks all over L.A. County.

Encampments are popping up left and right as authorities try to stop the further spread of COVID19.

"It's the most challenging time in our 128 year history," Bales said. "We've been through the Great Depression. We've been through World War II. But we've never faced a pandemic and fought against the fear and the reality of a mysterious and ferocious disease like this."

The mission is still receiving donations, but more help is still needed, including masks, gloves and toilet paper.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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