Unsafe and unsanitary facilities prompt legislative action.
By Sam Catanzaro
Los Angeles County officials have unanimously approved universal health and safety standards for homeless shelters.
“This ordinance is an important response to the homelessness crisis in
Los Angeles County. This ordinance creates a new category of housing and recognizes the need for health and safety requirements for the increasing number of interim housing facilities within the County,” said Richard E. Ragland, Principal Deputy for the Los Angeles County Counsel Health Services Division.
Every night in Los Angeles County, there are around 7,700 interim housing facility beds to serve homeless individuals in 327 total housing facilities. 234 of these facilities are publically funded by the Departments of Health Services (DHS), Mental Health (DMH) and Public Health (DPH), as well as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). These public agencies fund and monitor the majority of the interim housing facilities in the county and work together to assess existing standards and have determined that many shelters were unsanitary and unsafe
“Contractual oversight alone was insufficient to appropriately monitor the health and safety standards of individual housing facilities in the rapidly expanding interim housing system,” said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Los Angeles County Public Health. “Interim housing facilities must be inspected like other permitted multiunit housing facilities.”
The ordinance passed by Los Angeles County officials will allow DPH-Environmental Health (EH) to enact a new shelter inspection program to ensure that permitted interim housing facilities comply with health and safety standards for congregate housing. This oversight will include: permitting interim housing operations and conducting routine inspections and providing training and education to housing facility operators to achieve compliance. According to Ferrer, inspections will occur three times annually.
Among requirements are stipulations regarding toilet rooms, handwashing and bathing facilities, and storage of personal belongings, linen and bedding, and the proper disposal of sharps. In addition, interim housing centers that provide meals to residents will also be required to obtain a food facility permit from Public Health.
Under these regulations, facilities must include toilets, bathtub or showers, kitchen sinks and hot and cold running water. In addition, damaged interior walls, unsanitary sewage disposal and unreasonable collection of rubbish will be prohibited. Every facility will be required to maintain a minimum room temperature of 70 degrees Farenheight.
According to Ferrer and Public Health officials, these regulations were in-part promoted by the anticipated use of Measure H funding to construct new interim housing facilities in Los Angeles County.
“The use of Measure H funding will result in a multi-year expansion of the interim housing system with the goal of enabling many more homeless families and individuals to transition from interim to stable housing. The DPH-EH Interim Housing Program will strengthen the quality of the interim housing facilities throughout the County, which directly promotes capacity development and excellence in the homeless service system,” Ferrer said.