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Addressing Populations at Great Risk for COVID-19: Homeless, Jails, ICE Detention Centers

DIEDRA’S LA-Homelessness: The increase in unemployment will in fact increase the homeless population.

It is certain that people who experience unsheltered homelessness are at high risk of COVID-19, and due to the severity of the underlying illnesses many of them already experience, COVID-19 is life threatening. Yet, our elected officials have dropped the ball, breaking promises to provide emergency shelter for the homeless during this pandemic. Those who are unsheltered are infecting others. Just like the folks who refuse to wear masks because they think they’re special. 

Jails and Prisons:  Covid-19 is a neglected infection in a marginalized population within the jail and prison system. In mid-June, over 330 LA County Sheriff’s Department employees, including LA County Sheriff’s deputies, and nearly 3000 jail inmates tested positive for COVID-19.Yet, we haven’t received a count for this population since mid-June, which makes me question, is the environment much bleaker than we could imagine? In May 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that the COVID-19 infection rate in some parts of LA County jails was 40% or higher. This is very unsettling. 

How are these men and women being cared for? How many of their deaths have been reported? What precautions are being taken to ensure that the people who work in these facilities and the inmates are not infecting one another? Is there an updated prison policy initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased number of cases in the state of California? We know that social distancing is impossible within the jail system, and therefore, the numbers within must be astronomical. 

I.C.E. and Homeland Security:  According to the Department of Homeland Security, I.C.E.’s detained population has dropped by more than 7,000 individuals since March 1, 2020, as a result of decreased book-ins. Wow, this only makes me wonder, how many detainees does ICE actually have? Not a surprise to me that protestors chained themselves to the gate in front of Governor Newsom’s home. 

Possible Resolutions: There needs to be a forensic audit of Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to determine where and how money from Measures H and HHH has been spent to help the homeless. Possibly, an FBI investigation could follow if the audit results show mismanagement such as embezzlement or other financial crimes. In the meantime, and for the sake of flattening the curve, we must find shelter for these folks. 

Individuals who have been incarcerated for non-violent crimes and those with poor health, should be released or put under house arrest. Also, those who are detained because of lack of citizenship, need to be tested for COVID-19. If they test negative, they need to be released and deported. If they test positive, they need to be isolated until they test positive. 

Because of COVID-19, we are all part of a marginalized community and our elected officials need to do the right thing. Start over. Shut it down. Initiate a statewide curfew. No one in or out of our state until the curve flattens. Stop allowing egos to get in the way. Everyone must listen to the scientists. 

To those of you who feel that you are too special to wear a mask, we need stricter guidelines and severe consequences for you. NEWS FLASH: You are not special. Maybe incarceration will give you a different perspective. 

(Diedra M. Greenaway, MS/MBA, is a long-time community activist who lives and works in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.