Skid Row Doctor Says Health Risk Fear Over Homeless Isn't What it Seems - NBC Southern California
Streets of Shame

Streets of Shame

Southern California's Homelessness Epidemic

Skid Row Doctor Says Health Risk Fear Over Homeless Isn't What it Seems

Dr. Partovi sees the worst of the worst on Skid Row. But says the threat is not to the general public.

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    Skid Row's street doctor says there should be shame around how California treats those living with homelessness.

    On Skid Row, disease and infection is common, but the doctor who's seen it all says it's not because of the homeless people themselves, but rather, because of the conditions they're forced to live in. 

    Dr. Susan Partovi is the medical director for the non-profit Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, specializing in working with the severely mentally ill and/or drug-addicted.

    "If you can't take care of yourself, shame on us for not taking care of you," she said.

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    Dr. Partovi sees the worst of the worst on Skid Row. But says the threat is not to the general public.

    She also says she doesn't think there are any more health hazards than there already have been in the last 40 years, including with the recent outbreak of typhus last year. 

    "The excrement of the fleas gets smooshed into your skin, especially where there's broken skin and that's how you get it. You don't breathe it in, you don't get it even from shaking someone's hand. You have to be living in that environment," she said.

    The typhus outbreak last year with 109 infections was a peak point.

    This year, she says, so far only 53 cases have been confirmed, below the annual average of 64. She says it's an issue for the homeless population, but not those who simply come in contact with them. 

    "If you're looking at the majority of the homeless, I would say that they are either severely physically disabled, severely mentally disabled, drug users that also impair their ability to live out life, or any combination of the three," she said.

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    She says the state - not just cities and counties - needs to come up with a way to provide long-term care for the most vulnerable of homeless people.

    "The most heart-wrenching person we come into contact with is someone who is severely mentally ill... living in their own feces and urine and vomit and covered in lice," she said. "Those are the people that break my heart over and over again... That's why I say shame on our society for not taking care of them."

    Dr. Partovi says policy makers need to think out of the box if they're ever going to get a handle on the homeless crisis. But says the first immediate thing Skid Row and encampments around LA need are dumpsters and portable toilets to control the infections and diseases that come from trash alone.

    "The homeless are homeless for a reason," she said. "Let's try to make things as safe and sanitary as possible while we're working on the real issue."

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