Soldiers assist Long Beach shelters during COVID-19 pandemic

U.S. Army Spc. Luis Adrover, of the California Army National Guard’s 315th Vertical Construction Company, works the entry point to the Silverado Community Center temporary shelter, April 16, 2020, in Long Beach, California. Cal Guard Soldiers are helping city officials staff two temporary shelters in the area during the COVID-19. NOTE: Photo has been altered to blur residents’ names from whiteboard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Katie Grandori)

U.S. Army Soldiers of the California National Guard’s 315th Vertical Construction Company are helping city officials operate two temporary shelters in Long Beach, California, as part of the state’s COVID-19 response effort. Twelve Cal Guard Soldiers began supplementing the staff April 12, 2020.

The shelters at the Silverado Community Center and Martin Luther King Jr. Park are providing housing and medical screening for the homeless population 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 that they might contract the virus or spread it to their families.

“Having the National Guard has been really critical to stabilizing the work force 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 City of Long Beach Civil Service Department personnel analyst who is overseeing the shelter operations.

Shelter services are an essential response for the city. Ramos said that last year roughly 1,200 people reported that they were living on the streets within the city’s boundaries.

“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 have the capacity to 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 who is 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.”

This article was written by Staff Sgt. Katie Grandori, California National Guard.