More than 1,200 people experiencing homelessness in California will likely die due to the coronavirus, according to research released Wednesday.
That number is a large chunk of the total of 3,400 homeless people expected to die from COVID-19 across the United States, said the study's authors, which included researchers from UCLA, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania. The report also estimates that 400 of those deaths and 2,600 hospitalizations of the homeless will occur in Los Angeles County.
"As a humanitarian issue and to protect emergency room resources, it is essential that we do everything we can to help homeless people find safety," said Randall Kuhn, a professor of community health at UCLA in a news release.
"To ensure the safety of 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, we need every emergency accommodation resource imaginable: new shelters with sufficient space to keep people safe, hotels for the most vulnerable, safe parking and any other options. The scale of these efforts will be huge," Kuhn said.
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Some California officials have recently taken measures to address the threat to the homeless, who are especially susceptible to the coronavirus due to their lack of adequate shelter because many may have preexisting medical conditions.
"This is a population that’s advanced in age and already suffering from poor health, including deteriorated immune systems," said Thomas Byrne, a co-author of the report and a professor at Boston University, in the news release. "They are vulnerable and at high risk, but for many, it's not too late. Policymakers have a moral imperative to act now and save lives."
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans on March 18 to make 6,000 beds available for people experiencing homelessness and said about 5 million masks had been sent to workers at the Los Angeles Homeless Authority.
The same day, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order allocating $150 million to help local governments fund measures protecting the homeless from the coronavirus. The order was also aimed at buying over 1,300 trailers and leasing hotels to give homeless persons a place to self-isolate.
Some have reported that, even with these measures, few of California's homeless people have been helped, with advocates saying contact with encampments has been minimal.
The UCLA-contributed report noted that the U.S. health system is not yet ready to meet the needs of the homeless, nearly 22,000 are expected to require hospitalization nationwide, in the pandemic. Researchers recommended in the report that officials pursue collaboration and build emergency facilities to allow social distancing.