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Despite Revenue Shortfalls, Cities Remain Committed to Providing for Their Communities

April 22, 2020
With businesses shut down throughout the state, taxes and fees are coming in well below what cities were counting on, leaving city leaders with fewer dollars to pay for police officers, firefighters and other basic services.
At the same time, cities are still finding ways to deliver not only the traditional core services to residents, but also necessary COVID-19 response efforts.

Cities recognize that some communities, seniors, and the homeless, are at higher risk during the coronavirus pandemic and are working to protect their citizens and reduce the spread of the virus.

The City of Arcata is safely housing their homeless population by closing off two city-owned parking lots to set up tents. Within these parking lots, the city has set up tents six feet apart to maintain physical distancing while providing shelter for the homeless. These lots are able to house 15 to 19 people, and in addition to tents, the lots have portable restrooms and handwashing stations. The city is focusing on housing the homeless population without subjecting them to close living quarters to maintain the health and safety of the population during this pandemic.

The city is also working with the Department of Health and Human Services to secure hotel rooms for them. The city has successfully secured over 20 rooms and have begun moving high-risk people into hotels.

“Our work on the ground to quickly support those experiencing homelessness during the threat of COVID-19 would not have been possible without Governor Newsom’s prompt action. The funds he sent to Humboldt County and our Continuum of Care are making our emergency social-distance sheltering operation in Arcata possible," explains Arcata Council Member Sofia Pereira. 

The City of San Francisco has successfully transferred 750 people experiencing homelessness to private hotel rooms following Gov.  Gavin Newsom’s announcement on initiative Project Roomkey. Stanislaus County has made an agreement with Modesto hotel owners to provide housing for the at-risk homeless population throughout the pandemic. The housing priority for these cities are people over the age of 65 and those with preexisting medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Similarly, in the City of Oakland, 211 people have moved in to hotel rooms and dozens of state-owned trailers that were brought in to house the homeless. Ontario and Corona are using existing motel voucher programs to accelerate placement of people into housing.

Homeless shelters in San Diego and Los Angeles were packed leading up to the pandemic and with the physical distancing order, they have had to reduce capacities. To continue to house the homeless, both cities have offered temporary housing to the homeless communities and plan to expand their efforts, with Los Angeles rolling out a plan to house 15,000 people.

With the closures of public parks, libraries, and restaurants due to COVID-19, those public restroom options are unavailable, so the City of Modesto has taken initiative to install portable restrooms for the homeless. The portable restrooms are placed in high-need areas within the city based on input from the Modesto Police Department and Stanislaus County’s Office of Emergency Services. These portable restrooms will also have handwashing or hand sanitizer stations with the hope of reducing the spread of coronavirus.

In addition to focusing on protecting those experiencing homelessness, cities are finding ways to support senior citizens and others who may need assistance.

The Yountville Neighbor Network, which started in 2019 as part of the Town of Yountville’s emergency preparedness effort, has evolved and expanded to meet the new needs that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. City staff passed out door hangers requesting people, particularly seniors, contact the network if they need assistance, and they would be matched with a volunteer who would provide help.

Getting information to communities is especially important during a crisis and much of this information is shared via social media. The City of San Jacinto realized that many senior citizens are not connected “virtually” and decided to use tried and true methods from the past to share vital information. The City of San Jacinto began reaching out to families with seniors that are home bound and seniors without family support by mailing out 17,000 fliers encouraging seniors to sign up to be connected with resources.

“The mayor and city council wanted to ensure the city connected with its most precious community members, our seniors, so staff quickly and creatively used the reliable U.S. Post Office to connect them to resources,” stated San Jacinto City Manager Rob Johnson.

Seniors can fill out and mail the fliers back to the city or go online to register to receive the resource information. This program connects seniors with the Family Services Association and the Salvation Army which delivers food and household essentials to seniors.

The City of El Centro has worked hard to get information to residents through special meetings, which are livestreamed twice weekly on social platforms in both English and Spanish, to keep the community updated on city operations and updates throughout the coronavirus pandemic. El Centro has included leaders from El Centro Regional Medical Center (ECRMC) in the meetings to help address questions from city council and the public and provide reassurance.  

As we enter the second month of physical distancing, the City of Goleta is working to uplift spirits and promote positive images within their community by launching the #GoodLandGoodPeople photo campaign. The campaign calls community members to send in photos on how families and residents are staying busy and positive during this time, as well as photos of people in the community that are bravely working to provide for our country, including city staff, medical professionals, grocery store workers, and first responders.

As cities work to provide resources and information to their residents, the League continues to update the coronavirus resource and response webpage as a resource for city leaders. Daily updates on COVID-19 news, resources, and guidance specifically geared toward local officials will help local governments navigate the current situation and is updated as new developments occur.

Cities that would like to share the actions they have taken in response to coronavirus can contact the communications team at communications@cacities.org. If you have questions related to COVID-19, please send them to covid-19@cacities.org.

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