Advocates are warning the coronavirus epidemic might end up being catastrophic for California's sick and older homeless people, as there is no coordinated strategy to handle how the illness will affect them.
California has the highest number of people infected with the virus, and homeless organizations there and in New York and Washington state say they lack the government support and resources to stop the spread of the disease in campsites and shelters, reports The Guardian.
"We are not prepared yet for a crisis like this," said Rev Andy Bales, who runs the Union Rescue Mission (URM) at Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. "Individually, we are doing everything we can.
"But we will be losing precious souls out on the street if we don't take immediate action," he added.
There have been no cases of coronavirus confirmed among California's homeless yet, but not much testing has been done, and fear is spreading among people living out on the streets.
"I ain't ready to die yet," Kevin Wilkerson, a 52-year-old Skid Row resident, said, adding he is worried President Donald Trump has sought funding cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is also dangerous to tell people to stay home, when shelters are dangerous and crowded, Eve Garrow, a homelessness policy analyst with the ACLU of Southern California said.
"We have many older adults with compromised immune systems living in the shelters, sharing living spaces, restrooms, showers, and eating areas," she said. "It's almost impossible to think this wouldn't create a reservoir for the transmission of highly infectious viruses."
Health officials have told Bales to prepare to quarantine the homeless without testing them for coronavirus, as the kits will go first to care homes and hospitals, meaning anyone with a fever and cough will be treated at the mission as a coronavirus case. Further, only the worst cases are to be brought to hospitals, Bales said.
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