Coronavirus: Hotels shut doors to LA homeless

‘A little bit of concern about their reputation or image’

Justin Vallejo
New York
Thursday 09 April 2020 20:02 BST
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Hoteliers are accused of shutting their doors on the homeless population of Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic to protect their image.

While the State of California and Los Angeles Country pledged a total of 30,000 rooms for the homeless, only 350 had moved in as officials struggle to sign contracts with hotels, according to an editorial in the LA Times.

Hotel owners in downtown LA have been reluctant to sign contracts to house the homeless during the pandemic out of concerns that the homeless would damage both their physical properties and their brands, according to Phil Ansell, director of the LA Homeless initiative that is leading the effort.

"A little bit of concern about their reparation or image," Mr Ansell said.

The Hotel Association of Los Angeles told The Independent that hotel general managers had been working around the clock with the county and city, and that any delay was due to a rigid public contracting process needing to adapt to an "unprecedented effort".

"Clearly, none of us predicted a pandemic, but moving thousands of unsheltered individuals into enclosed environments without taking the proper health and safety precautions, would pose additional risk to the very people we are trying to help," said association executive director Heather Rozman.

"It takes time to prepare the necessary services, contracts and safety procedures, but by working together with government officials --hotels are coming online for this purpose rapidly."

Ms Rozman said 249 Los Angeles hotels have so far volunteered more than 20,000 rooms to support the Covid-19 response, reserved for the homeless, victims of domestic violence, elderly populations, and medical personnel.

The cost to secure 15,000 rooms and staff for three months is estimated at $195m, or an average rate of $85 per night.

California Governor Gavin Newsom pledged at least 15,000 hotel rooms for the homeless during the pandemic, while Los Angeles County -- which has almost half the states 150,000 homeless population -- pledged its own 15,000 rooms.

The first hotels under the state's "Project Roomkey" initiative opened on 3 April and had secured 405 rooms at 5 sites across the county, according to Heidi Marston, interim director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. A total of 1,340 beds at 15 sites are expected to be ready by the end of this week.

At a state level, county partners had moved 869 homeless individuals most vulnerable to COVID-19 off the street, out of shelters, and into isolation.

In conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Project Roomkey has secured 6,867 hotel and motel rooms in counties with significant homeless populations experiencing high concentrations of Covid-19 infections.

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