While the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, many of us have found ourselves uncertain of our future. Will we get sick, and if so, how sick will we get? What will happen to the economy? What will happen to our jobs? Things certainly seem grim, but outcomes could be even worse for those who are experiencing homelessness.
In California, fears have mounted that as many as 60,000 homeless people in the state could become ill with COVID-19 . That number represents about 40% of California’s total homeless population, a very disproportionate statistic when you compare that risk to those who are privileged enough to be housed. This problem is not unique to the Golden State either, homeless is an issue in the United States and around the world.
It makes sense that governments would try to mitigate this risk, but the questions, how do you go about it? Last week, a story broke that in Las Vegas, Nevada, the homeless were being set up in a ‘temporary shelter‘ that was nothing more than a parking lot with six-foot by six-foot squares set up to allow for proper physical distancing. This temporary shelter was set up after one homeless individual tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the entire facility to shit down .
Adding insult to injury, there are apparently numerous empty casinos and hotels that could be made available to the 500 homeless people who are actively looking for somewhere to stay in Las Vegas. Instead, they ‘shelter’ in an open-air parking lot.
Initially, the shelter was set up with carpeting and mats to help make the ground more comfortable, but eventually, the carpet was removed, forcing the 117 people who are presently sheltering there to sleep on a hard concrete floor. According to David Riggleman, the communications director for the City of Las Vegas:
“We found that it was very difficult to disinfect and clean. We had asked for sleeping mats, which we use at the Courtyard, and those can be disinfected easily. But there were none to be had.”
Photos of homeless people sleeping on bare concrete began circulating on social media, creating an outcry of criticism.
Julian Castro, the current mayor of San Antonio, Texas and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as well as a former candidate for president, took to Twitter to add his voice to the growing frustration.
He added: “There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing!”
But the shelter as it exists now and is still welcomed and appreciated by some of those using it. Denise Lankford, one person using the shelter, told KLAS that she feels safer than she would otherwise.
“I’m about to cry,” she said. “This right here is helping us feel secure, feel safe. Other places, you don’t feel safe.”
Riggleman argues that the parking lot shelter was the best they could do, as the Cashman Center, for which the parking lot serves, is being used as an overflow hospital.
He said: “I think our entire country has seen the fact that we can’t manage this situation that we are in. It’s not just the homeless. This has overwhelmed our resources everywhere and I think everybody is doing the best they can.”
“We needed a solution to this problem quickly,” he said. “And I want to thank everyone involved for their hard work so that our homeless population has a place to sleep tonight.”
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