Homeless lawyers are concerned about an increase in deaths since the COVID-19 pandemic in Orange County.
According to the coroner, 146 homeless people died between April and August. In the same period last year, there were 82 homeless deaths.
Although the coroner doesn't list a cause of death from natural causes, more than 90 of the causes of homelessness have been left blank in reports. Attorney Rev. Dennis Kriz believes the rising deaths may be indirectly linked to the pandemic, including poor public relations.
Kriz documented the deaths of homeless people monthly for the Voice of OC.
"I think the homeless are mostly just afraid of going to the hospital," said Kriz, pointing out the risks of going to the hospital during the pandemic.
The pastor, an Orange County homeless attorney, assisted dozens of homeless people by allowing camp on the grounds of his church in Fullerton. Now he's working with the coalition. Housing is a Human Right OC.
Months ago, Kriz and other homeless officials held rallies to advocate the county doing more for the homeless during the pandemic.
The county has attempted to help the homeless through Project Roomkey, a government initiative that provides temporary protection for homeless people who have symptoms of COVID-19 and those who are at high risk of developing a severe form of the disease. The initiative offers 692 rooms at six hotel and motel locations.
The county is also providing approximately $ 1.3 million to service providers for alternative shelters for the homeless.
"Every death is one too many, and the health agency, in collaboration with our community partners, continues to work on solutions aimed at connecting homeless people with the physical and behavioral health and housing resources they need," said Jason Austin. Director of the Office of Care Coordination for the Orange County Agency said in an email. "It is our job to help the weakest among us both during and after COVID."
The Homekey project, another government initiative, is the next phase in preventing the virus from spreading among the homeless. With the help of $ 600 million in government grants, counties will buy and renovate hotels, motels, vacant apartments and other buildings.
Austin said the county has filed three applications for motel locations with the state.
Kriz said Project Roomkey was inadequate.
"The program was never scaled to size," said Kriz. "There has never been an attempt to get everyone on the street into a hotel room."
Kriz believes Orange County needs to buy more hotels to accommodate the homeless. As of the 2019 census, there were nearly 7,000 homeless in the county.
“This is the time to do it; The hotels are cheaper than before, ”said Kriz. "It would save lives … You spend most of your discretion on law enforcement. So use some of that money to buy hotels. "
While Kriz believes it is probably the best way to get the homeless into hotels, he has complaints about Project Roomkey. Kriz and Dave Duran, a homeless activist, both say this puts limits on the homeless and makes them stay in hotels to contain the spread of the virus. Duran said the hotels and shelters are run like "prisons".
"I think it's justified because they don't want people wandering around and then bringing COVID into the hotel," Kriz said. "If you say people can't walk freely, basically ask them to join [Project] Roomkey and it becomes essentially voluntary incarceration."
It is not clear what the answer to protecting the homeless from COVID-19 is.
Kriz claimed the shelters were important but said they could pose an issue in the spread of the virus. He said shelters require at least three feet between beds, but the consensus is that six feet are necessary to stave off the spread of the virus.
“It's three feet from head to toe in bed, which translates to six feet face to face,” Austin said. "It's from the state."
"The same standard for everything else is six feet," said Kriz. “As far as I know, the only exception is for the homeless. They will almost certainly not lose that. "
Austin said the county is coordinating with homeless shelters to guide and recommend best practices to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said this includes operational changes and reducing the number of inmates for reasons of social distancing.