An Unprecedented Challenge Before Us
by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Special to the Los Angeles Sentinel
Small businesses are the backbone and foundation of Los Angeles. In the Second District, whether it’s the local coffee shop you visit every morning, the barbershop or salon, or the accountancy firm that helps you manage your finances, small businesses help to shape our daily lives in a wide variety of ways. Supporting the economic health of small enterprises means investing in the cultural and economic vibrancy of our own standing.
However, COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge of enormous scale and human impact. Long after this virus is gone, the economic damage will remain. As such, the County of Los Angeles is doing all that we can to focus on measures that will create an environment that promotes enterprise and boosts the confidence and capabilities of small businesses so they can weather this unprecedented storm.
To meet this challenge, we are in the midst of building out a small business fund that will bring together the best of public and private sectors, to support small businesses during this undoubtedly tough time. The Los Angeles County will employ the full force of our public sector capacity; because we understand that the well-being of our community – and our very way of life – depends on it. We are currently in the process of building a strike team to support the newly formed Business and Worker Disaster Help Center. The Worker Disaster Help Center will serve three functions: be the single-entry point for businesses and workers; centralize County resources into a single portal, and provide direct one-on-one assistance to those with who need it most. In addition, the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs (DCBA) is currently increasing the capacity of their telephone call center to respond to each online request within 48 hours. For more information, please contact the department at 1-800-593-8222 or visit dcba.lacounty.gov.
Finally, our office has implemented the “Support local business initiative.” Every weekend, I visit local restaurants in my community to order food to-go. These are not normal times, but I hope in doing this I can bring attention to those who need it, and re-create a sense of normalcy at a time when we need it the most.
But this is just the beginning of what will be a long fight on multiple fronts.
Every day, our public health department is testing more people and the number of positive COVID-19 cases will continue to rise. As more directives across the State, and even at the County level, ask people to “stay at home” what is brought into sharper relief is how acutely vulnerable our region’s homeless population is in this pandemic.
More than 59,000 people in Los Angeles are homeless—including 44,000 who are unsheltered—and they cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. Even before COVID-19 changed everything, we had an average of three homeless people dying on our streets every day. We must act, and we must act immediately to mitigate the effects of this pandemic on those who are experiencing homelessness before it ravages our encampments. Otherwise, the consequences will be profound and resonate far beyond our streets.
Our priority in this moment is to bring as many people who are currently experiencing homeless neighbors indoors immediately. We are currently expanding our network of winter shelters and working with several organizations to keep them open as long as possible. We have also purchased hundreds of trailers and are readying them for inhabitation.
In addition, we are exploring all potential sites to repurpose for interim housing, including master leasing hotels and motels, using shuttered juvenile probation camps, unused school bungalows and more. For those who are not presently in the shelter system, we are intensifying our outreach efforts to provide information around the virus to encourage people to come inside, as well as to screen for symptoms. This also includes efforts of placing hand-washing stations and other hygiene facilities in areas where there are concentrations of unsheltered people.
Here, I want to thank those who are on the frontline for our “Army of Good.” These are the outreach workers, the services and care providers who have not relented in the face of the most challenging public health crisis in our lifetime. For them, we ordering more supplies to make sure they have the necessary emergency equipment such as gowns, masks and gloves and materials.
In times of crisis there will always be challenges, but there will also be hope. Through that hope comes the courage to build the world we want to see. Despite the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, you are not alone. Los Angeles County has a plan and we’ll get through this together and emerge stronger as a community.