LA's homeless crisis worsened by COVID-19 pandemic, as shelter space squeezed

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- At the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles - where residents of Skid Row get housing and help - two crises are colliding: Homelessness and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The battle to save the lives of our guests, the battle to save the lives of our staff. We're in the battle of our lives and it's like playing chess with a monster genius," said the Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of the mission.

Like every other local shelter in Los Angeles County, capacity at the Union Rescue Mission has dropped from about 1,000 people to just 350. That's because more homeless people are getting COVID-19.

Those who are sick need to be under quarantine or isolation - and that means there's less space for other homeless people. Senior citizens are being hit the hardest according to local officials.

"One sweet senior thought she had COVID and we put her in the isolation room and called the medics. And the medics said she's going to have to stay here, all the hospital beds are full so we've never been in a more difficult situation in 130 years," Bales said.

There is some help for the unhoused. On the corner of 47th and Normandie Avenue, right in the heart of South Los Angeles, more than 50 new units of housing are open. It's the 24th project funded by proposition HHH - the $1.2 billion bond to create housing for the homeless.

Mayor Eric Garcetti unveiled the project with Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson Tuesday afternoon.

"This project will be focused on seniors, one of our most vulnerable populations and often overlooked. People don't think of seniors as being unhoused but they are. And increasingly our homeless population is getting older," Garcetti said.

But Bales says this is the most people they've ever had on the streets with the fewest places to go. He wants the county to come up with larger-scale solutions, like reopening the convention center to give people a place to stay.
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