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Taking the Lead on Protecting Low-Income and Unhoused Residents During Coronavirus Crisis

There's only so-much a City Councilmember can do to protect residents, both housed and un-housed, during a crisis such as the pandemic Coronavirus, but councilmember Mike Bonin is taking the lead using resources within his budgetary powers to provide washing stations for the unhoused throughout his district.

His team is also working on legislation to temporarily halt evictions of tenants impacted by coronavirus, call for a ban on utility shutoffs during the health crisis, and seek relief for the mom-and-pop businesses that are suffering as a result of the crisis.

Yesterday, over 40 public hand washing stations were installed at and near homeless encampments throughout Bonin's West Los Angeles Council District. As public health experts urge social distancing and hand washing, these stations give the unhoused the same chance to protect themselves as those with roofs over their heads.

On social media, Bonin is taking a verbal beating from detractors and critics. But the good news for those seeking to score political points by disparaging efforts to help the homeless is that helping an Angeleno living on the streets is helping everyone. Public health measures such as keeping ones hands clean and social distancing are not intended to contain the disease but to limit and slow its spread.

"A health-based approach to encampments is absolutely necessary as we continue trying to expedite the work of moving people off the streets and into long-term housing," Bonin wrote announcing the installation on his Facebook page.

Bonin's office had funding for 25 stations but was able to provide more handwashing stations with a boost from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's office and the Department of Recreation and Parks. On Venice Boulevard, where the north side of the street is controlled by Los Angeles and the south by Culver City, Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells has promised that the south side will soon be seeing hand washing stations installed as well.

And while the federal government's response to the economic impacts of the global pandemic is to worry about the stock market and tourism industry, Bonin is pushing the city to pass emergency legislation to protect those of lesser means. The city council will not meet until next Tuesday, so Bonin's team has time to work on the details of the proposal even as the virus continues to spread. And while five days can be an eternity in a crisis such as this, it also allows Los Angeles to learn from the efforts from other California cities.

On Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council passed a resolution directing city staff to create a plan that would halt evictions city-wide for the next 30 days. The goal is to have legislation that can be extended if the pandemic continues.

San Francisco is looking at several ways to protect its economically vulnerable residents as well. The city is examining a new type of paid leave that is specific to public health crises. The city's Board of Supervisors is creating legislation similar to what Bonin is proposing to ban residential evictions for those who are unable to make payments due to coronavirus related layoff or furloughs.

"The impacts of COVID-19 threaten to be severe, causing sudden and sharp drops in income for many tenants, workers, and small businesses, and pushing many people into homelessness," writes Bonin. "We cannot allow that."

Meanwhile, the state is also taking actions to protect economically vulnerable residents.

The USDA has approved California’s request to serve meals at school sites even should they be closed to instruction. It is unclear how this would be implemented should schools here ultimately close. But the matter is clearly not unappreciated.

Likewise California’s Secretary of Labor has announced: “If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.”

For more information on the coronavirus, what you can do in your own life to slow the spread, and any announcements of closures or government actions, visit any of these sources:

    • The CDC on handwashing, why and how.
    • On “preparations” - why slowing disease matters.
    • Why Closing Schools (or anything) can help slow the spread.
    • CV daily reports from California’s Public health department.
    • Latest news from LAUSD.
    • Agenda for Tuesday afternoon’s Special LAUSD Board Meeting “Declaring Emergency Conditions Exist at Los Angeles Unified School District Schools and Offices and Authorization to Take Any and All Necessary Actions to Prepare and Respond Effectively to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).”
    • California Department of Public Health guidance for schools and other guidance bulletins.
    • California Department of Public Health news releases.
    • Approval of CA State request to allow meal service during school closures.

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