Coronavirus response: Rec centers house LA's most vulnerable homeless to protect them from COVID-19

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- All group sports activities are banned at Los Angeles parks because of the coronavirus. But if you've been near an L.A. park lately, you may have seen police officers and yellow caution tape around the recreation center buildings.

That's because vulnerable members of the city's homeless population have been moved inside in an effort to protect them from COVID-19.

"If we take these emergency shelter beds and add them into our bridge shelter beds, this means that we can bring 7,000 unhoused Angelenos off the streets and into emergency housing," Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week.

The city plans to open 6,000 beds at 42 rec centers.

On Thursday, eight rec centers like one in Cheviot Hills were open and full with the homeless who were shuttled in under the supervision of the LAPD, who took their temperatures to make sure nobody symptomatic was transported.

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City officials say the shelters comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and they're bringing more online in the coming days including one in Pacific Palisades.

"We do need to provide that help, but we need to do it in a way that does not increase the risk of spreading disease to them or to the outside community," said Sarah Conner, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association. "Find solutions rapidly such as motel settings or other settings that allow homeless the opportunity to isolate the same way we are isolating."

Conner with the Pacific Palisades Residents Association is worried that grouping the homeless together indoors instead of isolating in an individual unit could have the opposite effect. An emergency hearing was held last week due to a lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights, which accused the city and county of not doing enough to protect the homeless during the coronavirus crisis.

"They brought the suit about, and in a week they came up with this idea to settle homeless in the rec centers," said Conner. It's well intentioned, but really ill-conceived and the communities were not involved in the planning process."

City officials say there's no time to waste and they had to act immediately. They're working with the state on converting hotel rooms and other more permanent solutions.

When asked how long the city plans to house homeless in the 42 city rec centers, officials told ABC7 that they couldn't provide an end-date because their focus is saving lives by getting as many homeless people indoors.
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