Why is there a high level of homelessness in California?

Poverty is growing, 100,000 homeless : How the corona crisis is changing California

The author lives as a documentary filmmaker near San Francisco and in Vienna; he made numerous TV documentaries on writers and film topics.

The Grand Princess was once the largest and most expensive passenger ship in the world. Now she is anchored in San Francisco Bay. After the two and a half thousand passengers, 94 of whom were infected with the corona virus, disembarked in the port of Oakland, the luxury steamer has temporarily had its day.

On my morning walks to the bay, I see it ten kilometers away, but still huge. Depending on the current, it shows me one side or the other, otherwise it doesn't move. Joggers and dog owners come by, we make arcs around each other, adhere to the "social distancing" of six feet and greet each other in a friendly manner. That's the new etiquette.

The mood is cautiously optimistic. There is enough space for everyone. The weather is almost always nice. You can hear the chirping of birds. Otherwise it is quiet. In the past, planes at nearby Oakland Airport would take off every three or five minutes, but now one may fly across the sky every fifteen minutes. What has a calming effect: civilization is still making itself felt.

California is lucky in adversity. It could of course have turned out quite differently, with a second catastrophe at the same time, fire storms, earthquakes (both of which are not entirely unlikely). Senator Kamala Harris recently voiced this fear: Are we prepared for this?

There were 349 virus deaths on Monday. More or less? California is the most populous state in the United States, with 40 million people living here. In 2019 around 275,000 died here, almost 750 per day. It's all relative. The number of infections and deaths is not rising as much as on the east coast. In San Francisco there is even a certain flattening of the curve.

Background information on the coronavirus:

Is it because the Bay Area was the first region in the US to have exit restrictions? Is it because of the good air - Covid-19 is a lung disease? Or are the people a little healthier here? “California cuisine” is not famous for nothing, the country is also a leader in fitness. Until 2011, a bodybuilder and action movie hero was California's governor.

In retrospect, the Austro-American Arnold Schwarzenegger even appears as a pandemic hero. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that California was well equipped to fight infection during his tenure. Under the influence of the bird flu, but also the hurricane "Katrina", Schwarzenegger had invested 200 million dollars in medical equipment, in mobile hospitals, 2,400 portable ventilators, 50 million breathing masks, and in the ability to quickly set up 21,000 additional hospital beds.

But then came the recession of 2008. Jerry Brown, the new governor (who also held this position before, tried to bring the treasury back into the black and saved where it could. The things bought under Schwarzenegger were mothballed or submitted.

Governor Gavin Newsom, who has been in office for over a year, initially looked rather pale. As Mayor of San Francisco, he once caused a stir when he legalized gay marriage there. Now he appears more and more as governor, holds the reins tightly in hand, appears on television every day, speaks plain language, exudes confidence. As for the medical infrastructure, he and his Office of Emergency Services are trying to get it up as quickly as possible.

Millions of children are educated online

And what about Hollywood? At first glance, the entertainment industry is hard hit. Shooting for films and series has been stopped, the studios are empty, the cinemas are closed. At least 170,000 filmmakers are temporarily unemployed. At the same time, streaming is like never before: Hollywood productions such as “I Am Legend”, “Outbreak” or “Contagion”, which deal with pandemics, have become big hits.

How long will the internet last? How vulnerable is it? It is (also) a physical structure that needs to be looked after, serviced and managed. The danger of computer viruses has almost been forgotten about the coronavirus. Saboteurs and terrorists have also disappeared from the horizon of danger. The Internet has become the most important infrastructure in the crisis; partial or total failure would be a disaster. Especially for the psyche of the people. For the trapped.

But even in the state that is so fond of its technological innovations, quite a few have no Internet access at all. Millions of children and young people are taught exclusively online - at the same time, around a fifth of households in the L.A. Unified School District, California's largest school district, do not have WiFi. Help is now coming from Google: The company is installing 100,000 hotspots in the state so that low-income people can also log in.

Homeless people are accommodated in hotels

The number of unsolved problems is great. Millions of people have lost their jobs until further notice. According to U.S. Census Bureau, over 20 percent of the population has slipped below the poverty line - currently the most vulnerable. One hundred thousand people in California are homeless (half of all homeless in the US).

The food banks are overrun and have lost many of their volunteers, namely the older ones who are now at home. A demonstration was just taking place in L.A. for a suspension of evictions and more tolerance in the case of delayed rent payments - in compliance with the distance rules: You walked and drove around the villa of Mayor Eric Garcetti. After all, the homeless are now being accommodated in hotels that are vacant due to a lack of tourists.

It is particularly difficult for the 400,000 agricultural workers in the Central Valley, America's largest cultivation area. They were classified as systemically relevant, but have to work unprotected, are mostly not insured and have no social network. New immigrants are also hit hard. Journalist Maanvi Singh reported on the case of a married couple from El Salvador who came legally to the Bay Area a year ago. Now they have to get their food through an aid organization. “I never thought that we would have to do something like that,” says the woman. “In El Salvador, my husband was a lawyer and I was a teacher. Here he worked as a gardener, I in a kindergarten. Now we've lost our jobs. We believed we had come to a safe country. Now I don't feel safe anymore. "

The ambience is the same for everyone

The coronavirus has also split the California population into two groups. Here the workers in “systemically relevant” professions, in clinics and supermarkets, as deliverers or bus drivers, there those who are involuntarily immobilized and who should stay at home as much as possible.

The ambience is the same for everyone: the buses are empty, the city highways are abandoned, there are no more traffic jams, much less petrol is used now. The air has become even better, nature can relax, the animals slowly penetrate into the empty spaces. Some game has been spotted in places where it has never been seen before.

This reminds me of "Earth Abides" ("Life without end", published in German by Heyne), the ecological-dystopian novel from 1949 by Berkeley professor George R. Stewart. The hero, one of the few survivors of a global virus epidemic, spends the rest of his life on the Bay, looking over at the slowly decaying skyline of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge, on which no cars have been driving for a long time. Herbert Krill

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