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As Coronavirus Spreads, Santa Monica Takes Steps to Keep Homeless Safe
 

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By Jorge Casuso

March 25, 2020 -- Portable hand-washing stations are cropping up in strategic locations and public restrooms are staying open longer as Santa Monica tries to help curb the spread of coranavirus among its homeless population, City officials said Wednesday.

In addition, the beach city's homeless outreach teams are offering advice on staying safe, and service providers are sharing hygiene and sanitation kits as supplies become available, City officials said.

"Shelter providers, outreach teams, and agencies providing meals are reminding people experiencing homelessness of the importance of social distancing," said Brian Hardgrave, a member of the City's Human Services team who oversees many of the City's homeless programs.

"As supplies are available, providers are sharing hygiene/sanitation kits to people experiencing homelessness," he said.

The efforts to reach the nearly 1,000 individuals living on Santa Monica's streets comes as the city's homeless population seems to have become less visible.

"There seem to be fewer individuals in places traditionally identified as 'hot spots,' including the beach and Downtown area," Hargrave said.

Last week, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) extended operations at its Winter Shelter Program through at least April 30.

At Santa Monica's three homeless service agencies -- The People Concern’s Access Center, Step Up on Second and the Salvation Army -- there is "high demand" for basic services such as showers, restrooms and meals, officials said.

This week, County Public Health and LAHSA began exploring the possible use of motels for quarantine/isolation rooms, City officials said.

The move comes after Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said the state was negotiating with more than 900 hotels to provide housing for the homeless and those who may be infected.

"As of now, no agreements have been finalized, but the City will continue collaborating with Public Health and our local partners," Hargrave said.

To help those living on the streets, Santa Monica continues to deploy its homeless outreach teams, although the program has been scaled back to comply with orders to avoid groups of five or more people, Hardgrave said.

Team members -- who have received special training during the coronavirus emergency -- are offering guidance on social distancing protocols and good public health hygiene practice, officials said.

To make it easier to practice the protocols, the City has installed portable handwashing stations at various locations, including parks, the beach and the Downtown area, officials said.

The City also has expanded the hours of four public restrooms along the beach and in Palisades Park, which are now open from 5 a.m. to midnight, officials said.

In Santa Monica's Central Business District, where homeless individuals often spend their days, the Downtown Ambassador Program is still up and running, said Kevin Herrera, senior marketing and communication manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM).

The ambassadors are "monitoring public restrooms, both in the parks and in our parking structures, daily, cleaning the public realm as well as providing extra eyes and ears for our city partners," Herrera said.

Meanwhile, County Public Health officials have visited the City’s interim housing facilities and the LAHSA Winter Shelter Program, which remain operating around the clock, to offer "guidance for maintaining a healthy environment," Hardgrave said.

"Shelter providers and outreach teams have received additional training on best practices for addressing coronavirus, and more personal protective equipment/hygiene supplies are being procured to protect providers, their clients, and the entire community," he said.

For information on the training provided to homeless services agencies, and a list of COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for people experiencing homelessness, click here

For individuals interested in volunteering or donating supplies to agencies that serve help people experiencing homelessness, click here


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