LA Mayor looks to hotels to shelter homeless as COVID-19 spreads

Los Angeles is looking to hotels and motels to shelter thousands of homeless residents as part of the city’s emergency response to the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak. In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Mayor Eric Garcetti said getting the 30,000 homeless off the streets is critical to controlling the spread of the virus, saying that failure to do so would result in “vectors exploding” across the city.

“This is an immense undertaking logistically and it’s never been done this quickly in a city, anywhere,” Garcetti said. “If we don’t get folks off the street, they will become the main spreaders or among the main spreaders of COVID-19 and a threat to themselves.”

The city has been scrambling to find beds for its most vulnerable, as those who test positive for COVID-19 continue to rise. While the number of cases in Los Angeles is still far below other major cities like New York and Seattle, its response has been complicated by a large homeless population, with 75% of homeless people there currently living on the streets.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has already announced $150 million in emergency funding to move homeless residents indoors. 

A man sleeps on bench near a bus stop in Los Angeles, California on March 17, 2020. – Cities across the nation are worried about the homeless population as the coronavirus pandemic surges with the US death toll reaching 100. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Garcetti announced Los Angeles will convert 42 recreation centers into temporary shelters, more than doubling the number of beds available, according to the mayor’s office. The move to procure hotels and motels would be the next step as the pandemic spreads, he said.

“[These] spaces will need to isolate patients, once we hit the wall of hospital capacity which most cities are coming close to,” Garcetti said. “We will hit that within either days or a week or two, if the projections are accurate.”

Garcetti said the city is looking to house 1,000 to 5,000 of the most vulnerable in such facilities.

The mayor’s proposal comes as hotel chains struggle to stay open, amid soaring vacancy rates stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. Hotel occupancy fell 24.4% to 53% year on year, the week of March 8-14, according to global hospitality research company STR. Revenue per available room fell 32.5%.

Garcetti did not specify the cost of his proposal and did not confirm that the city has secured commitments from hotels to house the homeless, though he said he was “confident the facilities exist.”

“We’re confident that they’re about to go under, and I’m confident that they need help,” he said. “I’m not confident we have yet the resources to match that.”

 Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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