For People Experiencing Homelessness, 'Stay At Home' Is Impossible Libraries, gyms, coffee shops and fast food restaurants all help fill gaps in the social safety net. But with those spaces closed due to the coronavirus, unhoused people have few places to go.

For People Experiencing Homelessness, 'Stay At Home' Is Impossible

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Right now, as you're listening to this, you might be hunkered down at home, doing your part to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. But what do you do if you don't have a home? From Los Angeles County, where 60,000 people are homeless, Anna Scott of member station KCRW has this report.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: For more than a year, Angelo Mike has been living in his beige Camry in LA's San Fernando Valley. It's tough for obvious reasons - no bed, no kitchen, no bathroom - but being organized helps a lot.

MIKE: Now I've got an actual routine. Normally, I'd get up like 5:00, 6:00 a.m. I like to get up early, go to the gym, shower, workout. I was like working out the morning. And then I might go to the library, apply for film gigs there.

SCOTT: He works as a crew member on movie sets.

MIKE: And by the evening, maybe I'd go to like a street vendor for, like, tacos or something.

SCOTT: Then came the coronavirus. Across Los Angeles, gyms, libraries and even many street food vendors have been shut down.

MIKE: Basically, the only place I go now is the park.

SCOTT: But with a lot of rain in recent weeks, even that's been difficult. Mike is one of thousands of people in LA who rely on a kind of unofficial social service network cobbled together from various places that offer running water and a free or cheap seat, like coffee shops. The agency leading homelessness policy during this crisis is the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Its leader, Heidi Marston, says she is concerned about so many places closing.

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HEIDI MARSTON: Just the capacity reduction for locations like that that have served as options for restrooms and handwashing or even just a place where people can go.

SCOTT: And a high priority has been replacing the loss of sink and toilet access at places like libraries and coffee shops.

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MARSTON: So where we're losing capacity, we're spending a lot of time trying to rebuild it, so we're not losing those very critical hygiene services.

SCOTT: For example, they've been working to roll out hundreds of mobile hygiene stations, like one across the street from a large encampment in LA's Echo Park neighborhood.

Right here on the corner, there are two port-a-potties. And then in between them is a little mobile sink with a couple of soap dispensers, some hand sanitizer and paper towels - and a folding chair right next to that with one security guard, Josh Givens.

JOSH GIVENS: We've got all these homeless right here up under the freeway. They use this for sure.

SCOTT: Givens says he's seen about 10 people an hour use the station. City, county and state officials are working on various plans to move unhoused people indoors. That includes creating quarantine spaces for homeless coronavirus patients if necessary. In the meantime, the city is also letting people keep tents up during the day, something normally not allowed. For Angelo Mike, he's been keeping mostly to himself in his car and outdoors. And he's working on new routines. He tried washing up in a park bathroom, but the sink had one of those faucets you have to press continually.

MIKE: You can't rub your hands together. And the water's so cold in the morning, like, it was hurting my hand. I rinse myself off in the morning with just a bottle of water now.

SCOTT: During the day, he wears an old pair of gardening gloves for protection. He's able to pick up meals at a local food bank, but with no library, nowhere to charge his laptop, look for jobs or even just sit, he has a lot of time to fill.

MIKE: Walk around, call my mom because she's back in Virginia, and her job shut down. And it helps to keep moving, so I don't have this anxiety built up in me.

SCOTT: I asked Mike if he'd consider going to a shelter if he had the chance.

MIKE: I've been in a shelter once before. I didn't like it at all. It's a miserable experience.

SCOTT: Most concerning...

MIKE: People are in close quarters with each other.

SCOTT: Something he's especially worried about with the spread of coronavirus - so for now, he'd rather stay in his car.

For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.

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