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SGV Tribune

Whittier hotel won’t house the homeless amid coronavirus crisis

While other cities, including Norwalk and Covina, battle similar plans in their jurisdictions, here’s what made the difference in Whittier.

The DoubleTree by Hilton in Whittier will not house the homeless during the coronavirus crisis after all.

Los Angeles County officials have yielded to protests from PIH Health, which has about 85 doctors, nurses and others, who work at dedicated COVID-19 units in the nearby hospital, staying at the DoubleTree.

The county wanted to rent space for about 200 homeless individuals who are either 65 and older or those who have underlying health conditions, which make them at risk for COVID-19.

But in a letter to Mayor Joe Vinatieri, James R. West, president and chief executive officer, said housing homeless people alongside his staff “is not a compatible arrangement. PIH Health physicians and clinical staff will need to move out of the Whittier DoubleTree if this occurs.”

In response, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn offered up some safety measures, including offering separate floors for doctors and nurses and the homeless clients, entrances for both groups and segregated elevators.

“But, if the doctors and nurses are ultimately not satisfied with our safety measures, then I will ask the state to look for 200 rooms elsewhere,” Hahn wrote in an emailed statement.

Vinatieri  praised the decision..

“We worked closely with Janice,” Vinatieri said. “This is a good resolution to a very difficult situation. We want to take care of hospital staff. This will enable us to do that.”

The PIH staff stay at the DoubleTree because “they are on the front lines of caring for the critically ill COVI0-19 patients, many in the critical care units, and they want to prevent the risk of exposure to their loved ones,” West wrote.

He predicted that had the plan gone forward, many of his staff wouldn’t find another hotel but rather opt to not work in the COVID-19 units, he said. That could lead to staffing shortages, West added.

The county’s plan to rent out the rooms is part of Project Roomkey, a strategy in which the state and counties are using federal disaster dollars to rent out space in hotels for the vulnerable homeless population.

The program has drawn opposition in several cities, including Bell Gardens, Covina, Lawndale and Norwalk, which has been sued by the county after it imposed a temporary ban to prevent renting out space to homeless without prior city approval.

On April 17, attorneys for Los Angeles County also filed a request for an emergency hearing with a federal judge, alleging their court-ordered efforts to help house homeless people at risk of contracting the coronavirus are being stymied by objections from Lawndale and Bell Gardens.