LOS ANGELES -- You can try and mask the danger, but it won’t keep you from catching COVID-19.
It’s hard to understate the risk to Peter Motta and Casey Pratts when they head under the 405.
“Right now our priority is making sure you guys are healthy, there’s no symptoms, and you know what COVID-19 is,” Motta said, as he and Pratt handed our masks and food to the homeless at Venice Boulevard and Globe. The two colleagues work for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA.
It’s hard to say how many people live under the overpass there since these days they are encouraged to stay in their tents and hope they can move into a FEMA-funded hotel room through Project Roomkey.
At this moment, there were 300 empty hotel rooms and 36,000 homeless Angelenos. Los Angeles County estimates about 7,000 people live under or near freeways in their jurisdiction. A U.S. District Court Judge just ordered them all to be housed by Sept. 1.
Matta talked to a woman inside her tent who said she had Leukemia and had recently moved under the freeway. Motta promised he would advocate to move her to the top of the list for a room.
Across the street, Pratts found another woman eager to get off the street. She’s ready for some stability so she can get to see her newborn baby in foster care.
“She said she needs permanent housing before she can even get visits,” Pratts said.
The young mother is added to the list.
To get a hotel room, a homeless person must be over the age of 65 or have a pre-existing condition that makes them more susceptible to dying from COVID-19, but that means pretty much everyone living under the 405 can qualify. Even smoking is enough to qualify for a FEMA-funded room.
Before the pandemic hit, Angelenos living on or under freeways faced a different invisible enemy – tailpipe emissions that could take decades off their lives.
But faced with hostility from neighborhoods and businesses, there’s little wonder why so many homeless end up in the shade of a freeway.
“It protects people from the rain, from the wind, it’s a lot cooler down here,” Pratts said, as she and Motta headed back to get more sandwiches from their car. That’s when Pratta got the call – a FEMA trailer just opened up.
“I’ll tell her right away,” Pratts said, as she walked to give the Leukemia patient the good news: she’ll go from homeless to housed in under 24 hours.