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Once $400 a night, this Westside L.A. hotel is now for homeless people fleeing coronavirus

Registered nurse Patty Pinedo takes the temperature of Sally Kimani, who is moving into a makeshift shelter in a West L.A. hotel.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

They trickled in by taxi, chauffeured by van, on bicycle and on foot. Like guests in times not dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, they checked their bags, registered and received their room keys.

But it wasn’t the usual well-heeled crowd that arrived Monday afternoon at this West Los Angeles hotel, where rooms normally go for $389 a night. The guests were coming from nearby shelters and street encampments.

The hotel, on the outskirts of Century City, began taking in homeless people on Friday. By midday Monday, its 130 rooms were more than half full, and the guests kept coming, sent — and sometimes delivered — by outreach workers who have been combing their caseloads to find those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and offer them lodging.

The Times is withholding the hotel’s name to discourage people who are not on the list of referred guests from showing up. It is the first of what will be dozens of hotels opened by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to get seniors and medically fragile people off the streets and out of overcrowded shelters.

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Sarah Dusseault, chairwoman of LAHSA’s governing commission, said it hopes to secure 15,000 hotel rooms that have been idled by the stay-at-home orders that have shut down much of the state.

“This is an audacious goal,” she acknowledged. “We’re working hard to make it a reality.”

Operating agreements are in place with 11 hotels already and more are in the works, Dusseault said. About 1,700 rooms are expected to be available by the end of next week.

A man pushes a baggage cart through a hotel lobby
Omar Spry, who normally works as an L.A. housing inspector, pushes a cart of residents’ bags into a Westside hotel that has been turned into housing for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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In addition to the hotel in West Los Angeles, a Canoga Park motel was converted into a makeshift shelter within the past few days.

The hotel program is the most ambitious of various efforts by L.A. city and county officials to prevent a potential devastating spread of the novel coronavirus among homeless people. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been converting city recreation centers into shelters. Sixteen are now open with a capacity of about 1,100.

The county’s Office of Emergency Management also has secured about 900 rooms in hotels and trailers for patients to use for quarantine or isolation if they have tested positive for the virus or have been exposed.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County’s Homeless Initiative and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority are working together to provide secure housing with individual hotel and motel rooms, medical supervision and meals for those who do not have COVID-19 symptoms, but are vulnerable to it.

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It’s a complex undertaking. The negotiations are being conducted on behalf of Los Angeles by state real estate experts. The county’s Homeless Initiative is executing the contracts and LAHSA is setting up the hotels. In the case of the hotel in West L.A., LAHSA and its main contractor, the St. Joseph Center in Venice, have taken over managing it, too.

On Monday, baggage checker Omar Spry placed each piece of luggage in a zippered tent that could be heated to 120 degrees to kill bedbugs. His regular job is a housing inspector for the city of Los Angeles.

Two men wearing medical face masks look into a suitcase
Security guards Nick Karwani, left, and Abdul Nasir check the bags of residents of a West L.A. hotel that has been turned into housing for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

At a counter in the garage labeled #1, registered nurse and contract worker Patty Pineda took each guest’s temperature and conducted a basic health screening.

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At a table marked #2, security officers searched everyone’s bags.

Case managers wearing the green T-shirts of the St. Joseph Center then ushered the homeless-people-turned-hotel-guests into the lobby for an orientation.

The immediate commitment is to provide them a home for 90 days, said Ahman Chapman, spokesman for the homeless authority. The hope is that they will be able to leave to a permanent home, not back to the streets.

“There are many things we’re learning that are new,” Chapman said. “Everybody’s had to adapt.”


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