March 21, 2020 / 2:02 AM / 18 days ago

California's stay-at-home order leaves homeless on street and vulnerable

BERKELEY, Calif. (Reuters) - Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered California’s 40 million residents to stay at home. That’s a big problem for the state’s estimated 108,000 homeless who live on the streets.

Ross Standley, 23, and James Sears, 27, sit outside an under construction restaurant in Berkeley, California March 20, 2020. The homeless individuals have seen their income from panhandling significant decrease in the last week as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has emptied streets in the university town. REUTERS/Paresh Dave

Officials are bracing for the coronavirus to have an outsized impact on the homeless who often live without access to proper sanitation and sometimes suffer underlying illnesses.

More than 60,000 homeless people could become ill with the coronavirus in California over the next two months, badly straining the healthcare system, Newsom said on Wednesday.

“Over the next eight-week period, we have modeled that of the 108,000 unsheltered Californians that are out on the streets, if you had an attack rate of about 56%, you’re looking at 60-plus thousand individuals that may have COVID-19,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a Facebook address to the state.

He has ordered $50 million be used to convert motels and hotels into shelters where homeless people could be isolated if they caught the virus.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said as many as 6,000 homeless people with coronavirus would be given beds at recreation centers. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said city recreational vehicles are being brought to the Presidio, a posh public park on a former military base, to house homeless needing to quarantine.

FEWER HANDOUTS

Resting on a mattress near the University of California at Berkeley, James Sears, 27, said the clampdown that the San Francisco Bay Area had implemented ahead of the statewide stay-at-home order had already squeezed the homeless.

Sears said he has made only $50 panhandling in the past week, far less than normal, and many of the restaurants that would lend him bowls and hot water to make meals have closed.

“Things are getting ridiculous,” Sears said. “I haven’t been able to make real money in days.”

On the bright side, with loud Berkeley college students gone from town, “it’s been easier to fall asleep,” he said.

At a train station south of San Francisco on Friday, Terry Atkins, 64, said the last time he had slept indoors was eight days before at a Motel 6 in Sacramento, California, where he paid $69 for a room.

Speaking with a cough as construction workers filed by to a nearby 400-unit housing development, he said he had heard of the coronavirus but did not know about the stay-at-home orders.

“I believe in helping people and keeping things clean,” Atkins said, motioning toward litter around the train station and saying it needed to be cleaned up. “The virus is caused by a dirty germ.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in Millbrae, California and Paresh Dave in Berkeley, Califoria; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis

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