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COVID-19 shelter closures may push homeless into heat wave

August 25, 2020
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https://www.latimes.com/homeless-housing/story/2020-08-19/homeless-shelter-heat-wave-park-closure

As the summer heat crested in the late afternoon Monday, Royal Fahrner left the Pan Pacific Park recreation center with a large plastic bag and her backpack.

A long bus ride downtown to a storage facility was in her future. The rec-center-turned-homeless-shelter, where she had been staying for several months, was scheduled to close Tuesday. So she was getting ready to move to the Westwood Recreation Center along with 42 other people.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she has shuttled among several shelters in Los Angeles city recreation centers. Some legal trouble meant she couldn’t leave the county, and since she had nowhere else to stay, Fahrner said these shelters had been a lifeline — and a salvation from staying on the streets.

“It’s surprising. Everyone thinks it’s going to be terrible, but it’s been pretty great,” she said through a yellow mask with a tongue sticking out on it. “The community has been really nice.”

After The Times began inquiring about why this shelter was closing, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, Alex Comisar, said the city had reversed course, and it would remain open. Read article here:

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Homeless Californians Doubly At Risk As Wildfires And Pandemic Collide

August 21, 2020
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"Our homeless residents are breathing ash right now," one advocate said of the unhealthy air affecting unhoused people already at heightened risk for COVID-19. Continue Reading

How COVID-19 Exposes America’s Housing Crisis

July 31, 2020
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“Many are calling this the equivalent of 2008’s foreclosure crisis, but at an exponential level.” This is how the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated America’s ongoing housing crisis. Continue Reading

Statement on the Revocation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule

July 30, 2020
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The National Alliance to End Homelessness stands opposed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) decision to revoke the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH rule).   The AFFH rule is a critically important tool for addressing the housing discrimination caused by historical and systemic racism in our cities, towns and communities.  It laid out a critical next step in ensuring that localities take meaningful action to address those disparities.   People experiencing homelessness — including people of color and those with disabilities – routinely encounter discrimination when seeking housing. Not only do they face a critical, nationwide shortage of housing they can afford (including housing that is accessible) but they are discriminated against when they seek to access the housing that is available. Their right to access housing is guaranteed under the Fair Housing Act and must be protected and advanced – not eroded – by our nation’s leaders.  Thrights guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act cannot be achieved passively or through wishful thinking.  They require action; action that was laid out in the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule,” said Nan Roman, President & CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. At this time, when the nation faces a historic reckoning over racism and discrimination, it is deeply disturbing that instead of seizing the moment to move forward, this decision will push us backward in the journey to a fair and equitable societyThe Alliance encourages communities to remain aligned with the principles of the AFFH rule in the name of fairness, justice, and racial equity.”   The post Statement on the Revocation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Beauty2theStreetz Gives Makeovers And Hope To Homeless People On Skid Row

July 20, 2020
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Shirley Raines' nonprofit does "more than something superficial," even during the coronavirus pandemic. Continue Reading

Permanent Housing Increases Show Commitment to Ending Homelessness 

June 11, 2020
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Communities across the country are working to permanently end homelessness: analysis from the State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition highlights growing investments in permanent housing. Not only does this policy direction reduce housing instability, but it promotes health and justice.  

Increasing Investments in Permanent Housing 

The emphasis of homeless systems has progressed from a temporary approach to one that focuses on permanent housing. Since HUD data collection on homelessness began in 2007, the number of permanent housing beds in the system increased by 177 percent. In 2007, permanent housing comprised 31 percent of the national inventory. The most recent data, from 2019, shows that permanent housing now makes up 57 percent.  All but one state grew their permanent housing stock since 2007. Some states stand out for their increased investments. Mississippi shows the largest addition of permanent housing to their inventory with 621 percent more beds than their prior twelve years. Other places with notable increases in permanent housing include Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Guam—each showing a more than 400 percent jump in their inventories.  Arkansas has lost 3 percent of its permanent housing inventory since 2007. 

Permanent Housing Ends Homelessness 

Studies over the last twenty years have repeatedly shown that housing, provided with a Housing First approach, ends homelessness, and that the overwhelming majority of people who receive this intervention stay housed.  In fact, more than 50 researchers outlined the evidence in support of Housing First in a letter to the current administration.   Many permanent housing beds in the nation’s homeless services inventory are targeted to specific subpopulations. Forty-four percent are dedicated to people in families, 22 percent are for veterans, and 35 percent are for those who are chronically homelessness (there is some overlap among these populations)These groups have all seen reductions in the number of people experiencing homelessness, supporting the notion that investments in permanent housing reduce homelessness  Unfortunately, the largest portion of the homeless populationindividual, non-disabled adults are not realizing these same reductions. There have not been as many resources available to them, and we are seeing their numbers increase. Communities should periodically review their bed inventory with such concerns in mind. 

Permanent Housing is Healthcare 

Now, more than ever, permanent housing is critical because it will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness and the larger community.  Social distancing in congregate shelter is extraordinarily difficult.  Access to running water for those who living outdoors is even more of a challenge.  Permanently housing people now will not only help quell the risks for the virus spreading, but it will also lower the chance of people dying from it.  In a recent Alliance survey of Continuums of Care, 56 percent indicated that permanent housing is a more of a future spending priority than options like additional shelter or motel space.   Housing has always been part of adequate healthcare. Multiple studies demonstrate the impact housing has on improving the health of someone experiencing homelessness.  Not only do people self-report being in better health after being housed, their healthcare costs to the system decrease as well.  Moreover, it is important to recognize that homelessness itself can create enormous physical and mental health challenges.  According to a report by the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, “Homeless people suffer all illnesses at three to six times the rates experienced by others, have higher death rates, and have dramatically lower life expectancy.” 

Permanent Housing is Justice 

Housing First approaches get people into housing quickly, without preconditions such as sobriety or employment, and wraps supports around them to provide as much or as little case management services as necessary to help their housing stability. Everyone deserves housing, including people experiencing homelessness. Full stop. No one should have to prove their worthiness in order to have a place to sleep at night, eat, and wash. Housing First is housing justice. 

Conclusion 

Permanent housing solves homelessness. While the system still struggles to meet housing needs of every person experiencing homelessness, the ongoing commitment to permanent housing is a promising sign. The investments made to help specific groups (families, veterans, and chronically homeless people) demonstrate that with adequate resources, reducing, and even ending homelessness is possible.     Download the permanent housing infographic. The post Permanent Housing Increases Show Commitment to Ending Homelessness  appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Federal judge: Homeless living along LA freeways must be given shelter

May 15, 2020
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Getty Images Los Angeles wasn’t “addressing this problem with any urgency”

Los Angeles has been ordered by a federal judge to “humanely” move all homeless residents away from freeways and into shelters—and the city and county have less than one week to comply.

Under a preliminary injunction issued this afternoon, which applies to the city and county of Los Angeles, anyone camped in the “vicinity” of freeway overpasses and underpasses and near entrance and exit ramps must be given shelter or “an alternative housing option,” such as a safe parking site or hotel or motel room.

In issuing the injunction, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter said it was “unreasonably dangerous” to allow people to live in areas that may be contaminated with lead and other toxins or that carry increased risk of being injured or killed in a car crash or earthquake.

He said he was compelled to intervene because neither the city or the county appeared “to be addressing this problem with any urgency.”

Once the city and county meet all of the requirements in the injunction, they can enforce anti-camping laws in these areas, he said, though it’s not specified how many feet or miles from freeways the order would be enforced. The order is set to go into effect at noon May 22.

In 2018, Carter issued a similar ruling in Orange County when he ordered officials to immediately house 1,000 living in tent camps in the Santa Ana River. As a result, Orange County cities committed to opening enough shelters to house all the camp residents.

One detail that’s not made clear in the temporary LA ruling is where exactly the unhoused residents will go. Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the city of LA has turned recreation centers into emergency shelters, which are currently housing 988 people, but cannot add more capacity due to social distancing guidance. The city is also negotiating leases with hotels and motels with a goal of housing 15,000 at-risk homeless residents, but currently only 1,850 rooms are filled.

For decades, Los Angeles has failed to provide enough shelter to house people living on the streets and in their cars. In 2017, a United Nations official who toured Skid Row called LA’s homelessness crisis a “tragic indictment of community and government policies.”

Complying with the ruling will require a massive undertaking, mostly because Los Angeles County is so large and is traversed by so many freeways. Los Angeles is home to an estimated 974 miles of state and federal freeways traveling through the 4,751 square-mile county. Last year, a point-in-time survey counted 58,936 homeless residents, 44,214 of whom were unsheltered.

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LA is housing its homeless in hotel rooms. How about the Ritz?

May 12, 2020
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The Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott opened in 2005 in Downtown Los Angeles after the city agreed to let the developer keep up to $270 million in tax revenue. | Shutterstock It’s time for them to give back, say some city leaders

Since 2005, the city of Los Angeles has given developers of eight hotels in Downtown more than $797 million.

The gifts have come in the form of tax breaks: The city forecasts how much tax revenue the hotel will generate, then once it’s up and running, only collects a portion of the proceeds for a set period of time or up to a certain amount. The questionable justification for the public investment has always been that more hotel rooms were needed to bring larger events to the Los Angeles Convention Center, which in turn, would generate money for the city.

But there are very few, if any, tourists in Los Angeles right now. Hotel rooms are sitting empty, while thousands of people camp on the streets and at parks and in cars.

A similar story is playing out across the country—more than 70 percent of hotel rooms are vacant, according to STR. It’s why California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched Project Roomkey, a state-funded effort to sign temporary lease agreements allowing homeless residents to isolate themselves in hotel and motel rooms. It’s widely regarded as the best way to shelter unhoused residents during a pandemic that has killed 2,770 people statewide, including 1,569 in Los Angeles County.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council directed its regional homeless services agency to compile a list of all hotels that have been approached for Project Roomkey but are not participating. It might be time, some city leaders say, for those publicly subsidized hotels to give back.

Project Roomkey participants are selected and prioritized based on their age and risk factors for contracting COVID-19, get their own rooms, showers, bathrooms, and three meals daily. But LA County has fallen far short of its goal of securing 15,000 rooms. As of Thursday, 3,101 rooms were made available through the program, and only 1,672 were occupied. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin says he’s unimpressed with the numbers.

“I don’t think any of us, six weeks ago when were calling for an urgent, FEMA-like response to COVID-19 and getting people off the street, thought we would be talking about of 1,500 or 1,600 people,” he said last week. “We all thought things would be bigger.”

In calling for the list, the councilmembers appear to be laying the foundation for something bigger: requiring the owners of hotels that got public financing or that were built on city-owned land to use their properties to address the current crisis. Those hotels include the Ritz-Carlton and the InterContinental at the Wilshire Grand, where the president has stayed on trips to Los Angeles.

The biggest hotel tax break that the city has doled out so far went to the development of the Ritz.

In 2005, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa agreed to let developer Anschutz Entertainment Group keep up to $270 million in tax revenue that the city would have otherwise collected over a 25-year period to build a 54-story high-rise that houses the Ritz and an 878-room J.W. Marriott. AEG operates the Staples Center, is a majority owner of the Los Angeles Kings, and produces the most famous music festival in the world, Coachella.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he’s not afraid to use his executive powers to seize hotels for Project Roomkey, but inferred that nicer hotels would be off the table.

“We shouldn’t necessarily commandeer $500 and $800 hotel rooms when we can house people with the same dollars for less,” he told reporters at a briefing last week. “We don’t want to overspend taxpayer dollars.”

But given the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, “hotels are starved for income right now,” Bonin said.

Criticism of the idea hasn’t been about whether hotels should give back. Rather, it’s grounded in the view that homeless residents don’t deserve such nice lodgings, especially if the accommodations are anywhere near where the elite meet. That’s how ABC7 framed a story on Project Roomkey:

Imagine spending millions of dollars to buy one of the luxurious Ritz-Carlton residences in downtown Los Angeles only to learn you may soon be sharing space with the homeless.

In addition to holding 123 hotel rooms and 13 suites, the glass-clad Ritz tower on Olympic Boulevard also contains 224 condos that sell for upwards of $1 million. ABC7 obtained an email from the Ritz’s homeowner’s association that says it has “resisted” Project Roomkey over concerns about “safety, security, property values and overall lifestyle.”

“We were all shocked and offended when we found out this might be a possibility,” Art Avaness, broker and owner of RE/MAX DTLA told Fox11. “Having it in your own home basically is just a little too much; in fact, it’s offensive.”

But hotels like the Ritz owe the public, said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

“The fact that we give public subsidies, public dollars to these hotels... would seem to me to be a complete justification that we expect something back,” he said. “Especially during an emergency.”

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Bellflower bargains to solve its homeless problem

May 8, 2020
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A rendering of the Bellflower shelter, converted from an old warehouse. | Courtesy of Studio One Eleven It’s building its very first shelter exclusively for residents with ties to the city

In 2018, the leaders of Bellflower, a small city in Los Angeles County, had what Mayor Juan Garza calls a “wake-up moment.”

For the first time in the Bellflower’s history, a citywide poll had found homelessness, not crime, to be the issue that most concerned residents. “Bar none, every single year, crime had always been the No. 1 issue,” Garza says.

The city didn’t have a single homeless shelter, but it did have 166 homeless residents, according to a point-in-time survey, and most of them were living on the streets and in tents and cars or RVs.

In September 2019, Bellflower’s elected leaders did something astonishing. They voluntarily joined a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit that was forcing cities in adjacent Orange County to build homeless shelters.

They could have built a shelter on their own, but the settlement presented a win-win opportunity, Garza says.

The city agreed to build 50 beds available only to homeless residents who have ties to the city, like a previous address or attendance at the local high school. And, in exchange, it would win the right to enforce anti-camping and “anti-nuisance” laws against anyone living on the streets who declined a shelter bed.

“If we didn’t make this exclusive to Bellflower, our residents would have rejected it,” Garza says. “And my City Council that is traditionally very conservative went along with it.”

The agreement was signed on September 23, when city manager Jeff Stewart says he and his team at City Hall got to work. At first they zeroed in on an empty piece of land near the San Gabriel River but changed course as the cost to develop it ballooned—the utility connections alone were priced at $2 million.

By December, they had decided to either buy or lease an existing building. In three days, they inventoried every available large commercial property in the city. One week later, they signed a lease for a 1960s prefab warehouse nestled behind a feed store on Lakewood Boulevard.

Right before Christmas, Michael Bohn, an architect who had just finished a food hall made of shipping containers for Bellflower, got a call from the city’s contractor, Howard CDM.

“They said, ‘The city wants this to happen fast. They don’t want this to be a five-year process and not a one-year process,’” he says.

Through his Long Beach firm, Studio One Eleven, John had also designed subsidized apartments for homeless residents. He says he understands the urgency of putting a roof over the heads of people who live on the streets, because the people who live on the streets are dying.

“This is about: How do we get people off the streets immediately?” Bohn says, referencing a September 2019 report that found nearly three homeless residents die daily in Los Angeles County.

In the span of five months, a remarkable timeline by LA standards, Studio One Eleven sketched out a blueprint for free-standing rooms and offices within the steel-frame building. Howard CDM built out the spaces. And Mercy House, the nonprofit social-services provider that was selected operate the shelter, moved in furniture.

“We started construction literally two months after we got the call in December and started sketching,” Bohn says. “We’re very proud.”

Now the shelter is on track to open within a couple of weeks, at the cost of about $2 million. The timing couldn’t be more critical. There are at least 196 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death in the county’s homeless population, a disease that’s two to three times more deadly for people experiencing homelessness than the general population.

If the Bellflower timeline sticks, it will open two months before a homeless shelter in Los Feliz for which planning started 27 months ago. An $8.5 million shelter in Venice Beach opened in February, taking nearly two years. Both were beleaguered by lawsuits from neighbors.

The settlement that Bellflower joined is buffering the city from those types of lawsuits.

“What the judge has committed to is that he would claim jurisdiction to any lawsuit filed regarding the settlement and that Bellflower would be insulated from such litigation as long as we follow the guidelines in the agreement,” Stewart says.

That doesn’t mean Bellflower residents never got fired up about the plans, the mayor says.

At one City Council meeting in December, “the fever pitch was extremely high,” he says. “There were bad words, name calling, getting up to our faces, literally almost touching nose to nose.”

A similar federal lawsuit to Orange County’s is playing out in Los Angeles and is heading toward a settlement. One of the biggest issues in the case is finding housing as soon as possible for people living on the streets. In the face of a deadly pandemic, that’s never been as pressing as it is now.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter—the same judge who oversaw the Orange County case—has indicated in court records that his priority is to help the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County come up with ways to provide “immediate access to shelter.” There are a few ways to do that. Homeless advocates have staged stunts and demonstrations to pressure LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to commandeer thousands more hotel rooms. Whatever the solution, everyone agrees: It must happen now, and it’s not happening fast enough.

Bellflower has the advantage of being a smaller city; plans can be vetted and approved more quickly. It has a population of 77,131 and covers just 6.1 square miles (the city of Los Angeles stretches for 502.7 square miles). Still, its shelter won’t go down as the fastest shelter ever built in LA.

In March, the county opened a temporary 40-bed shelter in a former health clinic in San Pedro, a project that only took six weeks to build once plans were approved. Also in March, Garcetti announced plans to reopen 42 recreation centers that had been shuttered during the coronavirus outbreak as temporary shelters. But within about a week, that number was slashed because of social distancing requirements: 24 are now open, with beds for 988 people. An estimated 11,177 people live in vehicles, tents, and makeshift shelters in the city of Los Angeles.

Bohn says the Bellflower mayor and the other elected leaders deserve a lot of credit for joining the lawsuit. “What Judge Carter is doing that’s so phenomenal is forcing cities to deal with the issue,” he says. “There was a burning desire to respond quickly. And this is the perfect time to speed these things up.”

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‘They see the trash… But they have to understand that this is someone’s home’

January 17, 2020
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An RV is towed from an encampment Wednesday in South LA. | Photos by Samanta Helou Hernandez What’s it like for RV dwellers during a city-sanctioned cleanup

Margarita Moreno sat surrounded by boxes of cooking supplies, bags of blankets, and a lamp, belongings she had kept in the RV she called home, but that was now being towed away because its registration had expired.

Until Wednesday, Moreno had lived in the RV, which she parked on Gage Avenue in South Central, for three months. She landed there, she says, after losing her job as an in-home caretaker.

“I’m going to stay with a friend until I can get back on my feet again,” she says.

Moreno was one of about 12 people who had their RVs impounded Wednesday as part of a scheduled cleanup of an encampment in the area. The operation, which started at 8 a.m., was one of many that happen across the city every day.

City cleanups are typically a collaboration among the Los Angeles Police Department, city sanitation department, and outreach workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

While LAPD enforced the impounding of vehicles on Wednesday, sanitation crews cleaned up the sidewalks, and case managers talked to residents and encouraged them to sign up for shelters.

In Los Angeles County, an estimated 16,527 people live in cars, vans, or RVs. In the city of Los Angeles, it’s illegal to do this in residential neighborhoods, leaving only a patchwork of commercial streets available for those sleeping in vehicles overnight.

Community members and businesses in the surrounding area had complained about the RV encampment, citing health and safety concerns, said LAPD Sgt. Joe Ward, of the Newton division.

“The main reason the clean up is happening today is if you look around you can see the RVs, a lot of them are dilapidated,” he said. “The ones we are taking have human urine coming out as well as human feces coming out, and it’s causing kids who walk to school to step in it.”

Residents stand with their belongings, most of which had been inside their RV.
Eight LAPD officers stand by during the cleanup.

On the day of the sweep, sanitation workers drained septic water that was leaking from one of the RVs and rounded up bulky items, such as shopping carts and bins that blocked large parts of the sidewalk.

Many activists have argued that these cleanups, which they refer to as “sweeps” because they can displace camp residents, are not the answer to LA’s homeless crisis. That’s especially true, they argue, in the weeks before the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, where the data collected helps guide funding and the delivery of services.

In an open letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and city leaders this week, advocates and grassroots organizers who work with homeless residents say “enforcement actions aimed at encampments may affect the integrity and accuracy of the count.”

“With just over a week before the count is set to begin, these enforcement actions create additional problems above and beyond their typically damaging impact on the lives of homeless individuals. Specifically, sweeps requested by local politicians are creating potential problems for the integrity and political neutrality of the count,” they wrote.

Residents experiencing homelessness tend to agree.

“They see the trash, and it’s a problem. But they have to understand that this is someone’s home. They’re gonna have a lot of stuff,” says Esmeralda, who has lived in an RV on this block for two years with her mother, father (who is in a wheelchair), boyfriend, and two pets. Before living here, the 22-year-old paid rent on an apartment for her family, but could no longer afford it when she lost her job at a perfume factory.

This was the first time they had experienced a cleanup. “Why don’t they give us an appropriate spot where we can all park or at least provide showers, porta-potties, dumpsters, anything would be helpful,” she says.

After the RVs were cleared from the site, sanitation crews were set to clean up sidewalks.

About a half dozen RVs were towed during the operation.

“If they’re parked illegally we tow them, if they don’t have registration we tow them, and or if they’re a hazard to the community, like issues with leakage, we tow them,” said LAPD Sgt. Sean Wells, who works with the department’s homelessness coordinator’s office.

According to Ward, residents of the encampment were notified by service workers two months in advance. Some left before the cleanup started, but for others, moving wasn’t so simple.

Esmeralda and her family were receptive to the service workers, and were in the process of finding a place to park through Safe Parking LA when the sweep notice came. But on Wednesday, the day of the cleanup, she says their RV wouldn’t start.

“They didn’t even give us a chance to at least pull it,” she says. “I wish instead of taking it, they found a way to help us move it.”

According to Wells, once RVs are impounded, owners can pay fees, which average $339, plus a $53-per-day storage fee, to get them back; buy them back for a low price after they’re sold at a low price (sometimes they’re even given away) during the impound lot auction; or find an alternative place to sleep.

Because they don’t have a storage space, whatever belongings Esmeralda and her family couldn’t carry, were to be thrown away by sanitation crews. Their plan is to stay at a shelter for a while until they find a more stable place to live.

“We have nowhere to go to sleep, we don’t have a place with a roof on top of us,” she says. “I’ve lost my home. I’m stuck.”

By noon, most of the RVs had been towed. All that was left were a few pieces of furniture, some mattresses, and an old suitcase.

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