Impacts of COVID-19 on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) Access in Skid Row, Los Angeles

Authors: Lourdes Johanna Avelar Portillo*, University of Southern California, Yao-Yi Chiang, University of Southern California, Meredith Franklin, University of Southern California, Charlene Ko, University of Southern California, Angelica Vasquez, University of Southern California
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography
Keywords: homelessness, WaSH access, water insecurity, WaSH insecurity, COVID-19, Los Angeles
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


On a given night in 2020, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates roughly 66,000 people experience homelessness, 72% of which live in unsheltered conditions. People experiencing homelessness live at the margins of society with limited access to essential water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) services needed to secure their livelihoods. The inadequate, unreliable, and unsafe access to WaSH services contributes to forms of WaSH insecurity that leaves people experiencing homelessness at a disproportionately higher risk for infectious diseases. The impact of WaSH insecurity on people experiencing homelessness remains underexplored, particularly in highly-income countries, such as the United States, which claim universal access to WaSH services. Moreover, the existing SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has further reduced access to essential services due to the closure of public facilities. To better understand how urban WaSH insecurity has affected homeless populations in the community of Skid Row during the pandemic, this study utilized primary and secondary data to conduct a comparative analysis. Primary data includes surveys collected in 2019 (n=263) of individuals with lived-experiences and in-depth interviews with current service providers. This study implemented urban WaSH insecurity as a lens to better address disparities in access to WaSH in unsheltered homeless communities and the impacts of COVID-19 on this community. Our preliminary findings characterized a reduction of publicly available WaSH facilities, particularly 24-hour restrooms services. Therefore, the study demonstrates the need for informed public policies that better address the needs of unsheltered homeless (i.e. provisioning of essential WaSH services) to reduce the risk of infectious diseases.

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