California Gov. Gavin Newsom authorized on Wednesday the spending of $150 million in emergency funding to protect homeless individuals amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom, a Democrat, directed that $100 million will go to local governments for shelter support and emergency housing, while the remaining money will be used to buy trailers and lease hotel and motel rooms to serve as quarantine sites for any homeless individuals who have become infected with the contagion.
“People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19,” Newsom said. “California is deploying massive resources to get these vulnerable residents safely into shelter, removing regulatory barriers and securing trailers and hotels to provide immediate housing options for those most at risk.”
He added: “Helping these residents is critical to protecting public health, flattening the curve and slowing the spread of COVID-19.”
Along with the allocation of millions of dollars, the state has also permitted local municipalities to freely spend money allocated to battle homelessness on combating the spread of the virus among the community, ramped up public health outreach among the homeless, and opened two hotels it has leased to house homeless individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.
California is home to half of the country’s street homeless population – and more than one-fifth of the reported cases of coronavirus nationwide so far – and state and local lawmakers have already thrown billions of dollars trying to tackle the mounting issue of homelessness. The coronavirus pandemic adds another – possibly deadly – angle to the issue.
The stress and physical toll of living on the streets paired with the poor sanitary conditions faced by the homeless make them particularly susceptible to diseases and viruses. In addition, many homeless people deal with mental health and substance abuse issues and are generally wary of local authorities, meaning they are hesitant to seek help when they do get sick.
“This is a serious public health issue and I’m concerned that it is going to have a very devastating effect on the homeless,” Jeffrey Norris, the medical director at Father Joe’s Villages, a homeless outreach organization in San Diego, told Fox News.
Norris added: “Many have medical comorbidities – diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease – that put them at a higher risk. Many elderly folks experience homelessness. Whether they live on the streets or in dense shelters, they have a high prevalence in risk factors.”