California retirement community angry at plan to move homeless with coronavirus to nearby hotels
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A plan to move homeless people with coronavirus into hotels in California’s Orange County has pitted two groups that are highly vulnerable to the contagion against each other, just as the country’s most populous state gears up for what is expected to be the most critical phase in the fight against COVID-19.
Officials in Orange County recently made a deal with two posh Ayres hotels in the town of Laguna Woods to house homeless individuals amid the pandemic as fears mount that the virus could spread like wildfire among the susceptible population.
The plan, however, has faced fierce opposition from Laguna Woods Village, a community with thousands of residents older than 55, who last weekend took to the streets to protest the move.
“Why would they put this right near where we live?” Fran Garbo, a Laguna Woods Village resident, told local media. “This is where we live. Right across the street, that is where we shop, the drug store, the grocery store.”
Residents of Laguna Woods Village, where the average age is 78, say they are particularly vulnerable to having serious complications from COVID-19 and locating homeless people with the virus next door puts residents at risk.
“Is this how our county seniors are taking care of the seniors?” Marie Juliganga, another resident, reportedly said. “You’ve got a lot of people at risk. This shouldn’t be happening.”
County officials say that while they understand the concerns from residents at Laguna Woods Village, they have to act quickly to make sure an outbreak among the homeless doesn’t further strain the health care system in the region. Homeless individuals brought to the hotels will not be able to have visitors or leave the site until they are deemed healthy by medical personnel.
Laguna Woods Mayor Pro Tem Shari Horne said that there are numerous hotels throughout that county where the homeless could be taken that are not close to elderly living facilities. She added that the town is considering legal action to have the homeless moved elsewhere.
“There are empty hotels and motels all over the county that would love the big bucks from this contract,” Horne told The Los Angeles Times. “I don’t know if they were asked. I don’t know if they looked.”
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents Laguna Woods, said she didn’t agree with the order by the county’s Emergency Operations Center to house the homeless people at a hotel so close to elderly residents, but said they were turned down by at least a dozen hotels in Orange County before the Ayres hotels agreed to a contract.
“As far as I know, we do not have an alternate location. I believe we are still looking but we have a very short period of time,” Bartlett said. “This is about saving lives.”
California is home to half of the country’s street homeless population – at more than 151,000 people as of last count – and state and local lawmakers have already thrown billions of dollars trying to tackle the mounting issue of homelessness.
Given the close quarters that many homeless individuals live in on the streets, in encampments and especially in tightly packed shelters, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced during a news conference last month that the state would be prioritizing them as a vulnerable population. While Newsom did not go into detail, he did say that state and local authorities would be working to move homeless individuals into hotels and motels purchased by the state in recent days and into 450 state-owned trailers that will be dispatched across the state.
“This is a serious public health issue and I’m concerned that it is going to have a very devastating effect on the homeless,” Jeffrey Norris, the medical director at Father Joe’s Villages, a homeless outreach organization in San Diego, told Fox News.
Norris added: “Many have medical comorbidities – diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease – that put them at a higher risk. Many elderly folks experience homelessness. Whether they live on the streets or in dense shelters, they have a high prevalence in risk factors.”