During a visit to Los Angeles on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that $694 million would be given to 35 Project Homekey projects across the state, amounting to around 2,500 new units for people in need. However, this latest award of funds also renews opposition against Project Roomkey/Homekey.
Since 2020, Project Roomkey, which gives homeless or those in need of housing temporary and long-term hotel rooms to live in, and Project Homekey, which aims to give affordable housing to those in need, have been funded by the state, with projects being placed across California, albeit with most being put in major cities. However, both projects have been widely viewed as failures, with Roomkey only filling 7,000 of 17,000 available room at it’s peak with it costing the state $100 million, and Homekey has not curbed homelessness as hoped, with the population actually growing despite the program in place.
Despite this, the state has kept funding projects. A revival of Roomkey has been mixed, with many areas bringing back available rooms while others, like LA, have rejected it due to strong opposition from hotel owners. Likewise, Homekey projects have also continued despite the failures, leading to Newsom’s announcement on Wednesday.
Los Angeles was the biggest awardee on Wednesday, with ten projects funded, totaling $277.3 million for a total of 960 units. Other high amount awards include San Francisco, funded for two projects worth $73.4 million and 221 units, Fresno funded for four projects worth $57.9 million and 283 units, and San Jose, for a project worth $51.6 million for 204 interim units. Other cities getting Homekey funds include Fontana, the County of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Newark, Oakland, Palo Alto, Palm Springs, the County of San Luis Obispo, Santa Rosa, the County of Sonoma, Thousand Oaks, Stockton, the County of Ventura, and West Hollywood.
“With 12,500 new homes funded in just two years, Homekey is changing lives across the state,” said Governor Newsom during a volunteer event in LA celebrating two years of Project Homekey. “Homekey’s groundbreaking success is a model for the nation, showing that we can make real progress on ending homelessness in months, not years. In partnership with cities and counties like Los Angeles, we’ll continue to safely house Californians in need faster and more cost-effectively than ever.”
Others in attendance, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and Congresswoman Karen Bass, also spoke.
“Homekey is more than just another tool in our toolbox in the work to end homelessness – it’s an opportunity for thousands to start anew, and an injection of pride and dignity that can keep Angelenos off the street for good,” Mayor Garcetti said. “Thanks to this latest infusion of funds, hundreds of people experiencing homelessness today will be offered the stability of a permanent home, the safety of a door with a lock, and the services they need to get back on their feet.”
Problems with Homekey/Roomkey
However, many in California have opposed Project Roomkey/Homekey funding, citing that other projects designed to reduce homelessness would be better off funded, such as transitionary programs that are employment dependent and reduced cost housing vouchers. Many are also upset about the price tag for Project Homekey, which ballooned to $3.75 billion this year following Newsom adding another $150 million to the project in the 2022-2023 state budget.
“There are so many other projects out there worth funding to reduce homelessness that the state is ignoring for these programs which don’t have a great track record,” explained Ronald Wilson, a homeless policy advisor in Los Angeles who was also homeless for a time in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. “Housing is a part of it, but those who are homeless need jobs, need to be checked out mentally and physically, need some basics under their belts like clothes and a few basic starter appliances, need cell phones, and need the internet to start with. It’s not a “gimme, gimme gimme” welfare thing, there are a lot of things needed. And a focus on just housing is dangerous because it ignores a lot of those other needs, most critically food, while people transition to get jobs and build back up. You can’t just give someone an apartment and say goodbye and good luck. California did that during the Great Recession and the Pandemic and homelessness continued.”
“Look at how many were back on the streets after these projects ended. I mean you got a room, some food did come your way, and if you were lucky you had clothes, phone, and internet services to take advantage of. Some managed to eke it out. Many others did not. It didn’t help that people weren’t medically evaluated or evaluated for drug usage, because a lot of room transitioned out were destroyed in the process. People went through drug withdrawals without help because these projects just gave a room and thought that would make things square. Granted, there were some health and mental checks, but it wasn’t consistent. You needed a full checklist of 20 things, and some places had 12 or 9 or 15 of varying things, usually with one critical one missing that had people back out on the street.”
“So we had scenarios where a homeless person had a job interview, got clothes and everything, but the new housing unit they got didn’t have a working shower, so they had to go to the Y, and were late and didn’t get the job. Or a place gave shelter and clothes but didn’t give food to tide them over to the first paycheck.”
“It’s a mess. And if you do a more transitionary model, it’s ultimately cheaper plus you get to see returns on those investments through taxes paid by the homeless person who is now has a job and everything in society. Instead we have Roomkey and Housekey, projects that costs billions with little, if anything, to show.”
Other Project Homekey awards are expected to be made in the near future.
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