Over the weekend, residents were warned to stay inside due to dangerous air quality, leaving thousands of vulnerable people with no refuge
LOS ANGELES, CA- Today Councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced legislation to develop comprehensive protocols for how and when to open ‘smoke relief’ centers as well as expand accessibility across Los Angeles. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic and excessive heat, heavy toxic smoke from the Bobcat and El Dorado fires is the latest crisis to impact local residents, leaving unhoused people and other vulnerable Angelenos with no place to seek refuge.
“If public health officials are telling people to stay home because the air is too dangerous, we need to step up to help the over 36,000 homeless people on the streets of LA with nowhere to safely breathe,” said Blumenfield. “We can’t just open a handful of small sites and call it a day. A plan is desperately needed to include air quality emergencies, increase the number of open centers, and improve the outreach around the city.”
When temperatures become too extreme, ‘cooling centers’ are opened but a similar protocol does not exist for when air quality is dangerous. Even with ‘cooling centers,’ there are not enough and often they are too far away to be fully useful. For example, on September 6th, when temperatures surged in Woodland Hills to 121 degrees, there was only one city ‘cooling center’ open in the West Valley with space for only ten people. It was miles away from most CD3 encampments, leaving 700 homeless people in the district to suffer in the extreme elements with no relief. Additionally, tens of thousands of housed residents of all ages and health histories don't have, or can't afford to use air conditioning or air filtrations systems.
Blumenfield stated “The sad reality is that with the increasing threat of climate change, this will not be the last time the city is faced with multiple natural emergencies dramatically impacting public health. As we work on more permanent solutions to homelessness like creative housing and more mental health and drug addiction services, we need to figure out how to help unhoused Angelenos especially when the elements are deadly.”
The motion specifically instructs the Emergency Management Department, Department of Recreation and Parks and the General Services Department to prepare a plan and protocols to open certain city facilities during times of dangerous air quality that includes staffing, facility and outreach needs. Blumenfield also requested those departments along with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to draft a report on what additional city-owned sites could be open during emergencies that would better serve the unhoused population, if hours can be expanded as well as explore private partnerships to further address this issue.