LONG BEACH, Calif. – A dozen U.S. Army Soldiers of the California National Guard’s 315th Vertical Construction Company are helping city officials operate two temporary homeless shelters as part of the state’s COVID-19 response.
The shelters at the Silverado Community Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Park are providing housing and medical screening for the homeless of Long Beach during the pandemic. Cal Guard Soldiers report directly to the city’s shift supervisors and are handing out food and hygiene kits, assisting new residents with intake forms, and helping with other assignments as needed to help city officials run the shelter.
Staffing a shelter or any other congregate setting is difficult during COVID-19 as people are concerned they might contract the virus or spread it to their families.
“Having the National Guard has been really critical to stabilizing the workforce that is in place to address the need and making sure that we have a steady number of folks that are available, ready and willing to support the mission,” said Elsa Ramos, a Long Beach personnel analyst who is overseeing the shelter operations.
Shelter services are essential for the city. Last year, Ramos said, 1,200 people reported they were living on the streets in the city.
“We wanted to expand our shelter capacity to provide a place for people to come in and get out of the elements, receive medical screenings and connect to services that otherwise they wouldn’t have,” Ramos said.
Together, the two shelters can house 125 people. Cal Guard Soldiers are working in shifts to provide adequate care to the residents.
“I have heard nothing but positive feedback from our shelter supervisors and our shelter coordinators about the quality of care that the Guard staff is providing at both locations,” said Ramos. “They are very engaging and ready to help.”
The shelters have implemented COVID-19 safeguards for residents and staff, including physical distancing, having everyone wear face masks and checking temperatures before people can enter.
“I have kind of accepted the coronavirus for what it is,” said Spc. Courtney Casale, a 250th Intelligence Battalion Soldier currently attached to the 315th and working the shelter. “If I can help someone and change their life, that is all that matters to me.”
Casale knows that this is what she signed up for.
“That is what we are here for. That is what the National Guard does.”