A homeless man in Silicon Valley died from COVID-19 Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
He’s the first confirmed homeless person to die of an illness that advocates and experts warn could be uniquely devastating to the nation’s 567,000 homeless people. Meanwhile, homeless people in Salt Lake City and Seattle have also shown symptoms of the respiratory disease in the past week, and have either been tested or quarantined.
Newsom’s grim announcement came after the Bay Area’s six counties — including Santa Clara County, where the man was based — were virtually shut down for a “shelter-in-place” order that’s expected to last for at least three weeks while the region attempts to control its own outbreak. The governor did not offer more details on the man, including his age or where he may have been staying, but said more updates would follow Tuesday.
Santa Clara County has reported 138 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, while the entire state of California has reported 392 infections. That makes the county the center of the state’s COVID-19 crisis.
“Terrible. Heartbreakingly predictable and preventable,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, wrote on Twitter after Newsom announced the death Monday. “Congress, @SecretaryCarson, what are you doing to prevent more deaths among some of our country’s most vulnerable people?”
The Bay Area region, one of the richest locales in the country, has long hosted one of the nation’s densest homeless populations, too. Advocates there fear that because so many local homeless people are elderly, coping with pre-existing conditions, or unable to readily access sanitation services, they could be at increased risk for COVID-19.
Additionally, homeless people were made exempt from Monday’s “shelter-in-place” order, since additional homeless shelters are still coming online in the Bay Area. There’s also a dire lack of affordable housing in the region, since rents there have skyrocketed in the past decade.
Santa Clara County alone, home of Apple and Google, has nearly 10,000 homeless people, according to government data, 80% of whom sleep outdoors or in cars. Officials there announced last week that they’d suspend sweeps of encampments and pass out more sanitation supplies to keep people safe, but the county is still short thousands of beds.
Overall, the state has 108,000 homeless people who need protecting amid the global pandemic. The vast majority of them live outside. Newsom has said his office is hard at work trying to move them indoors, either with beds in hotels or motels, or through 450 state-owned trailers California plans to deploy to “critical points,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, a group of homeless mothers took over vacant properties around Los Angeles this weekend, arguing that the state isn’t doing enough to ensure homeless people are safe amid the pandemic.
California isn’t the only state concerned about what the virus could do to homeless people who can’t easily quarantine indoors. Anchorage, Alaska announced it’s planning to convert a 32,000-square-foot arena into an emergency homeless shelter. Several cities are suspending evictions to avoid adding to the population of people sleeping in encampments and shelters.
Cover: Homeless encampment, RV, tents and mobile homes can be seen near Guadalupe River in San Jose, California, United States on Wednesday, November 27, 2019. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/Sipa USA)