On April 3, Newsom announced Project Roomkey, a program funded largely by the federal government to lease 15,000 hotel rooms in which unhoused people could shelter-in-place from the virus.
That would cover about a tenth of California’s homeless population, which numbers over 150,000, with about 108,000 living on streets or in cars.
“This is the crisis that predated the most current crisis in the state of California,” Newsom said. “We’re doing everything in our power to meet it head on.”
As of June 22, the state had secured 15,781 rooms and placed 10,050 people with underlying conditions in hotel rooms where they can stay until the threat of the virus subsides. Another 595 were temporarily quarantined because they tested positive or have been exposed. The rest of the rooms stand vacant, ready for a surge.
However, Los Angeles County, the epicenter of both California’s homeless crisis and COVID-19 spread has fallen short of its own goal to place 15,000 unhoused, vulnerable Angelenos in rooms, having only leased close to 4,000 rooms thus far. Instead, officials now propose to place the 15,000 in permanent housing in three years.
While 10,000 is a lot of people to place in rooms, it’s half the number of healthcare workers who have stayed in hotels on California’s tab during the pandemic — a reflection of how challenging, and contentious, it is to chip away at California’s homelessness crisis.
Newsom has shifted his aim from short-term public health intervention to a long-term homelessness solution. The new budget deal sets aside $550 million in federal emergency aid to buy hotels to be turned into permanent supportive housing. The catch: the aid expires on December 31, but acquiring hotels can be consuming and pricey.
To be screened for a hotel room, call the homelessness agency for your area.