Keeping Up the Fight Against Homelessness Amid COVID-19

By Mark Ridley-Thomas
Supervisor, Second District of Los Angeles County

“The challenge that we face from the COVID-19 pandemic is truly one of enormous scale and human impact. Throughout the nation, across the county, and here in own community, our daily lives and the way we interact with others has dramatically changed. Social distancing has become common parlance, and not only has COVID-19 unmasked disparities embedded in our healthcare systems, it’s catalyzed a crisis within a crisis for those experiencing homelessness.

“About 66,000 people in Los Angeles County are experiencing homelessness — a 13 percent increase from last year, and a 28 percent increase from the year before. These are numbers of consequence given last year alone in LA County we brought in more than 22,000 people off the streets. We were able to do this because we have Measure H, and we thank the voters for that.  But despite housing 207 people every day—that same day—227 new people cross the threshold into homelessness.

“Persons experiencing homelessness are one of the most vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have worked with unprecedented speed to move thousands of homeless Californians into hotel and motel rooms, we must also take care to understand that  people who have lost jobs in the current economic crunch will also become homeless, essentially overwhelming so much progress.

“The current protests and calls for a more equitable society represent the most sustained conversation of the persistent racial disparities’ communities of color face in almost all facets of their daily lives—such as health status, access to health care, wealth, employment, housing, income, and poverty. And these are the core factors that contribute to a greater susceptibility to a person experiencing homelessness.

“The total picture that emerges is that ending homelessness is not just about ending the physical act of being homeless. It is about ending the cascade of policy failures–which racism is a predominant factor—that lead people to experience homelessness.

“We’ve redoubled efforts to prevent homelessness through eviction defense and rental assistance; sponsored policy locally and supported state law to prohibit landlords from discriminating against residents who have publicly-funded rental assistance; and importantly, are ensuring policy makers are using an anti-racist lens to do their work. This, all while ramping up programs like Project Roomkey and Project Homekey to equitably bring the most vulnerable homeless individuals indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic while we continue to build much needed affordable housing for long-term stability.

“But this is just the work that is front and center for us in our challenge to end homelessness—we ask that you join us in this fight.

“We cannot rest until we bring everyone in.”