Yahoo reports homeless families are occupying vacant homes in the Los Angeles area as two major crises collide in California: the years-long affordable housing crisis and the immediate, mounting coronavirus pandemic.
Starting on Saturday — as cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, ballooned statewide — homeless mother Martha Escudero, 42, and her 10- and 8-year-old daughters moved into a vacant house owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles. Ruby Gordillo, 33, and her three kids, ages 8 to 14 — who had been “precariously housed,” living five people to a one-bedroom — also moved in, along with Benito Flores, 73, who had been living in his van for years.
It’s part of an effort they’re calling “Reclaiming Our Homes” — and over the past week, other homeless people organized by the group have moved into 12 vacant houses in the area, the Los Angeles Times reported. Caltrans owns dozens more empty homes in the area, which were bought up under a previous plan to extend a freeway. (That plan was nixed before development began.)
The group is demanding that local and state governments take action immediately to provide housing to homeless families, which are particularly at risk of being exposed to coronavirus.
A Caltrans spokesperson told HuffPost Thursday that the agency was “aware of the situation” and “in discussions regarding the use of these properties.” The agency did not immediately respond to clarify if it intends to allow the families to stay and use other such properties to house more people experiencing homelessness.
California, where about one-quarter of the nation’s homeless people reside, is also among the states with the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases: Nearly 700 Californians have confirmed cases and more than a dozen have died as of Thursday — and the figures keep mounting each day. Earlier this week, the first homeless person was reported to have died of COVID-19 in Northern California.
“There’s people living in shelters, a lot are dirty, libraries and gyms have shut down — there’s nowhere for homeless people to even keep their hygiene up,” Escudero told HuffPost on Tuesday.
“Since the government’s not doing their job, we the people have to take power into our own hands,” she added, saying she’d like to see all vacant state-owned properties used to house homeless families and seniors — “those most vulnerable … especially in the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.
— Reclaiming Our Homes (@ReclaimingHomes) March 18, 2020