SAN FRANCISCO – Since the beginning of an international pandemic, experts have known one population is particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading the coronavirus: the homeless.
Officials have vowed repeatedly to get them indoors, but testing shortages and bureaucratic wrangling are making it difficult. Relatively few of California's 150,000 homeless have been moved into individual quarters. It’s unclear how many even have the highly contagious virus.
“The whole shelter-in-place and the whole lack of shelter-in-place for homeless people was totally poorly thought out," said Needa Bee, who lives in a camper in Oakland with her teenage daughter.
The shutdown of public libraries and other facilities has made it difficult for homeless people to get clean water and food or use the bathroom.
It's a struggle playing out nationwide. In Portland, Oregon, some will be housed in the retro-hip Jupiter Hotel. In Seattle’s King County, authorities bought a motel and leased another to take infected people, with plans to move hundreds of homeless people from shelters into hotel rooms next week.
Photos of homeless people in Las Vegas — a city brimming with hotels — temporarily sleeping on rectangles painted on a makeshift parking lot sparked outrage.
The Trump administration announced $3 billion Thursday for homelessness pandemic efforts. California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged $150 million in homeless aid, including money for hotel rooms. He was expected to announce more steps Friday.
Mary Kate Bacalao, policy director at Compass Family Services in San Francisco, called the situation “absolutely terrifying."