“Safer at Home” & Our Homeless Community

April 1, 2020

By Ben J. Winter, CCF’s Senior Program Officer, Housing & Economic Opportunity

In 2019, the homeless crisis was on the front-page of newspapers almost daily and a frequent topic of conversation for many Angelenos–and for a good reason. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County reached nearly 59,000 in 2019, a 12 percent increase over the last year.

Fast forward to early 2020, and our community finds itself at the edge of another uncertain time. The on-going homeless crisis is colliding with the mounting coronavirus pandemic. Government agencies are moving faster than we thought possible to open temporary shelters for un-housed individuals while creating safe spaces for homeless people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 to self-quarantine and recover. Nonprofits who serve the homeless are taking great precautions. According to a recent article by CalMatters, the Los Angeles Mission has spent close to $10,000 on hand sanitizers, hand-washing stations, ultraviolet disinfection devices and thermometers. All who enter the shelter, including staff, have their temperature taken.

Additionally, the economic effect of the virus is hitting low-income and rent-burden communities particularly hard which could place their housing in jeopardy. As Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti put it, “we’re just entering [the] tunnel right now, and we need to be prepared for some of the darkness that lies ahead.”

To prepare for this uncertain journey, CCF launched the COVID-19 LA County Response Fund to assist nonprofits’ response to the looming crisis. In less than two weeks of launching the fund, we’ve made an initial round of flexible grants to front-line organizations that focus on challenges related to health, immigration, education and housing. Our housing grants went to nonprofits that either house or provide services to vulnerable populations, especially those experiencing homelessness. Last week, CCF gave $1.7 million in grants for COVID-19 relief, including:

  • $250,000 in flexible funds to 15 homeless services agencies, 15 affordable and supportive housing providers and a senior services organization to prepare for the epidemic, such as buying supplies and hiring staff to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to better connect vulnerable populations to emergency systems.
  • $200,000 to eight homeless service providers to improve food security for people experiencing homelessness.
  • Additionally, over $650,000 to health clinics and other nonprofits for patient assessment, staffing and the treatment or quarantine of individuals with the virus.

Front-line organizations, like Coalition for Responsible Community Development, Jovenes and The People Concern, are using flexible funds from philanthropy in unique ways that best fit the populations they serve. For instance, instead of asking older-adults to pick up meals at centers, senior service agencies are delivering fresh-cooked meals to keep people home. Homeless service agencies are purchasing new tools, such as personal protective gear or technology for remote case-management, to help them practice social-distancing while working to get our unsheltered neighbors into new emergency shelters.

As we coordinate with our partners to keep Angelenos housed and healthy, we also witness the persistent inequality in our economy magnified, as unemployment claims rise and service workers put themselves at risk of contracting the virus to help others stay “safer at home.” (See “When Our Heroes are Also Our Most Vulnerable”) Our rush to pass emergency funding in Capitol Hill, Sacramento and local halls of government highlight the woeful inadequacy of our social safety net. So, as we deal with the emergency needs of today, CCF is constantly thinking about how our collective recovery efforts can speed up systemic change, with housing policy at the center of that equation. For instance:

These are indeed uncertain times. But Angelenos are rallying around science and data, supporting our service and medical workers, and coming together to save lives. CCF’s longer-term housing agenda with philanthropic dollars are creating innovative solutions to address our region’s housing needs. Together, let’s truly make Los Angeles “Safer at Home,” for everyone.

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