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California, Seattle homeless at high risk during outbreak

LOS ANGELES – On a grimy sidewalk, a clot of homeless people watch cars whiz by, surrounded by their tents, piles of bicycle parts and clothing and a half-consumed can of nacho cheese spread.

What’s missing, say those living outdoors on Flower Avenue in the city’s trendy Venice district: the basics needed to ward off coronavirus – hand sanitizer, a dependable source of clean water and easy access to showers, for starters.

That’s one reason the homeless, along with the elderly, are considered high risk during the crisis.

“People experiencing homelessness not only have a set of challenges that make it really hard to do what we ask – stay home when you are sick, wash your hands frequently, talk to your medical provider if you are feeling ill – but they are in worse health than many other people,”  Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, told reporters.

Homeless people crowd a sidewalk in downtown Salem, Ore., where they have set up a makeshift camp. Experts say that the homeless, who often have health and substance-abuse problems, are exposed to the elements and do not have easy access to hygiene, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The same issues are playing out across the country in cities with large numbers of people sleeping on the streets. Officials are starting to take action.

• In the Seattle area, the county government bought an old motel to isolate coronavirus victims and let those who don’t need hospitalization recuperate. 

• San Francisco plans to lease motor homes that could be parked in the city’s scenic Presidio park surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge as housing for the homeless under quarantine.

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