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Housing & Homelessness

Homeless resident tests positive for coronavirus at Granada Hills Recreation Center

A gymnasium converted into a homeless shelter
Homeless people have moved into more than a dozen L.A. recreation centers, including one in Westwood, above.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

One of the homeless people living inside a recreation center in the San Fernando Valley has tested positive for the coronavirus, an aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday.

The test results became known two days ago and resulted in a “deep clean” of the Granada Hills Recreation Center, where the person had been staying, said Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar.

“The person was very promptly isolated,” he added.

The development comes three weeks after Garcetti announced plans for moving thousands of homeless Angelenos into shuttered recreation centers in an attempt to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus. It appears to have been the first case of a person living inside one of those facilities testing positive, Comisar said.

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Shelter staffers announced on Monday evening in front of about 50 people that the resident had tested positive, according to a man who identified himself as Victor, who said he had been staying inside the facility.

Victor told The Times that “chaos” broke out in the gymnasium after residents were told about the test result. Some people began yelling, and at least six people moved out of the building entirely, he said.

“I left everything I had there. I left with the clothes on my back. I said I’m not staying another night in there,” said Victor, who estimated that he has been homeless about eight years.

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Ahmad Chapman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, referred The Times to the County Joint Information Center, which has been set up to coordinate the response to the pandemic.

Victor said that before he left the gymnasium, shelter workers had hauled away the belongings of the man who tested positive, putting up yellow caution tape and cleaning the area. “This guy had been there a couple days and he was coughing the whole time,” he said.

Twelve homeless people have tested positive for COVID-19, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday. Ferrer said there were also four cases in shelters — two staffers and two clients — but she did not provide a location.

The Times reported last week that an employee of the Union Rescue Mission had tested positive for the virus and been brought to the hospital. It was the first known case of the virus on skid row.

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On Wednesday, Union Rescue Mission Chief Executive Rev. Andy Bales told The Times that the man had died in the ICU at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. He also said that no one else in the shelter has tested positive for the virus.

Garcetti announced last month that he planned to convert 42 recreation centers into homeless facilities with 6,000 beds. That number was later reduced to 2,000 to ensure that each facility complies with public health directives requiring that people be spaced apart to slow the spread of the virus.

So far, city crews have converted around 20 recreation centers into shelters, in neighborhoods stretching from Northridge to Watts. When the shelter opened in Granada Hills last month, it was expected to offer 41 cots, according to Grace Yao, spokeswoman for Councilman John Lee, who represents the northwest Valley.

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The city has received relatively little opposition to the shelter program. But in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, one resident has filed a lawsuit seeking to block city officials from moving homeless people into the Palisades Recreation Center.

Susie Forte Gilman, who lives near the facility and is a plaintiff in the case, said in her lawsuit that a shelter would create a public nuisance and put homeless people — as well as the surrounding neighborhood — at greater risk of contracting coronavirus.

Gilman also said the creation of a temporary shelter could violate laws regulating the disclosure of information about the movements of sex offenders, according to the filing.

A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer said his office would review the lawsuit. Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the neighborhood, said through a spokesman that he supports using the Palisades Recreation Center as a temporary shelter.

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“My preferred method of housing people in this crisis is in non-congregate settings like vacant hotel rooms,” the councilman said in a statement. “But in the middle of a deadly public health crisis, I support moving unhoused people indoors in any way and in every place we can.”


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