Mobile trailers and Venice’s Cadillac Hotel house at-risk homeless population during COVID-19 pandemic

By Kellie Chudzinski

Trailers in Westchester Recreation Center’s parking lot are part of a local government effort to protect homeless individuals from the coronavirus and house those who need to be isolated

Los Angeles is continuing efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially among the vulnerable population of 50,000 people experiencing homelessness across the county.

Since the first reported case of the novel coronavirus in LA County on January 26, there are 27,815 confirmed cases with 1,313 deaths countywide as of Tuesday.

Two simultaneous trailer programs are being run by the city and county to house those in-need but are not experiencing the disease, and another to care for and quarantine those with symptoms that do not require hospitalization, respectively.

Westchester Recreation Center, which converted to a temporary homeless shelter in mid-March as part of the city’s COVID-19 repsonse, is being used as a facility for both programs. Dozens of trailers are visible in a fenced-in lot, on West Manchester Avenue, east of the Lincoln Boulevard intersection and, according to the city, 25 people are being housed in the trailers and are not experiencing COVID-19.

Since the site went live on April 1, it has only housed one medical resident reported by the county, who is no longer reported by the program. As of Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 72 total cases in Westchester, with 20 in nearby Playa Vista and one in Playa del Rey.

Residents of the area voiced concern for the Westchester site on the neighborhood app NextDoor. One resident of the area wrote “Why support something that had no community input,” while another simply wrote “It’s not OK.” Though others were clear about their support for the project to provide shelter and meals for those in need during the pandemic and praised the distance of nearly 100 yards of the location from residences.

Nearby Dockweiler RV Park has been an operation county medical site since March 22, but does not currently have any residents as of the county’s report on May 5.

Los Angeles city and county are also fully involved in the California statewide initiative Project Roomkey. The program, implemented by Governor Gavin Newsom, aims to house people who are categorized as high-risk for the coronavirus due to age or pre-existing conditions in hotel and motel rooms.

Project Roomkey is designated as Tier 1 housing for those experiencing homelessness but are asymptomatic. According to the LA County Department of Public Health’s May 5 COVID-19 update, across the county there are 2,709 rooms available, with 1,582 occupied by 1,785 guests. (The numbers do not include Long Beach or Pasadena as they have separate health departments.)

“I’m convinced, right now, we’re meeting the need and I’d love to see that continue,” said Garcetti in his Friday press briefing of possible Roomkey expansion. He added that new sites were being signed on steadily.

Among them, the Cadillac Hotel on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, which began intaking clients on April 24.

“Generally, they are doing bigger hotels, like 100-room hotels, but the Cadillac has 48 rooms, but because of the location and proximity to the bridge housing they needed something in that area,” the hotel’s owner Sris Sinnathamby told The Santa Monica Mirror. “My staff will fill the front desk, cleaning the hotel, maintenance. … But in terms of vetting all of them, taking temperatures, security, everything else the county is providing, and they have provided a lot of staff.”

For those who are positive for coronavirus, they can receive what is known as Tier 2 housing, and as of Friday there were 409 rooms available with 314 filled, according to Mayor Garcetti. In his Friday briefing, he also praised the city’s outreach efforts among those living on the streets and in shelters during the pandemic.

Over 6,500 wellness checks have been conducted by city teams and over 2,000 people experiencing homelessness have been tested, according to the mayor.

The city remains on lockdown until May 15.