No one’s safe until everyone is safe

  • Posted on 27 April 2020
  • By Suvan Geer, Angeles Chapter Environmental Justice Committee
Covid and Homelessness

"Safer at home" can have very different meanings.  Photo credit: Yvonne Martinez Watson

Since COVID-19 erupted worldwide we have all had to learn new practices to prevent the spread of infection to our families and communities such as physical distancing, washing hands, and covering our faces with masks. Watching the death tolls rise more quickly in other places has taught us how essential it is that these simple things be universally practiced.

But what if you are homeless? How do you stay safe at home when you have no home? Without plumbing, what do you do if you are sick with fever or it is crushingly painful to move and you need to search for an open bathroom? How can you wash your hands after touching public railings, shopping carts, bus seats or donated bags of food if hand sanitizer or soap and water are not around or you cannot afford it?

When you are homeless these simple safeguards are impossibly high hurdles.

Streets lined with shopping carts, tents-and people living out of cars or RV’s are uncomfortable reminders about the increasing wealth disparity between the haves and have nots and the failed social programs intended to address these disparities. These are social and environmental justice issues that are already hard to address – but now the harsh realities of being homeless in a global pandemic clearly demonstrate just how vulnerable our most vulnerable people really are.

In this rare moment, it is obvious that none of us can ever be safe from globally-driven infections unless everyone is safe and able to find shelter. It is that realization that is driving the conversion of hotels into homeless shelters and high school gyms into centers for mass isolation and safe access to showers and food, and cities like LA, and some private companies, are now working hard and fast to find additional housing for the well-over 59,000 homeless people in LA County.

It is possible that the infection rate in Los Angeles County is plateauing. Everyone is waiting anxiously for word they can go back to their jobs, travel, dine out and make human contact again. It would be easy to see that day as a return to normal. But the four pandemics that have caused global deaths over the last 9 years and now the COVID-19 outbreak, which is now fueling an international shutdown, are making it clear that the old normal is crumbling and must be reassessed. We are learning that science cannot always be counted on to save us. (Remember, there is no vaccine yet for SARS which was first identified in 2003.)

In this new age of uncertainty, we must demand actions be taken NOW to ensure everyone, including our most vulnerable citizens, can be “Safer at Home.” That’s why the Sierra Club is a founding member and leader of the national People’s Bail Out coalition.

Take action with the Sierra Club on May 1 to support the People’s Bailout.

The People’s Bailout five principles are:

  1. Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions
  2. Economic relief must be provided directly to the people
  3. Rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives
  4. Make a down payment on a regenerative economy while preventing future crises
  5. Protect our democratic process while protecting each other

For more information go to:

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