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California Governor Gavin Newsom speaking at the State of the State address in Sacramento, CA, Mar 8, 2022. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

Project Roomkey Housing: Homeless Say it Wasn’t a Benefit

‘They spend all that money on getting us into motels, but then don’t follow through on help, or sabotage what we had going’

By Evan Symon, December 2, 2022 7:31 pm

Ever since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Roomkey started in 2020 as a way to help the homeless stay off the street by utilizing motel and hotel rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has undergone big changes. It went from a program born out of necessity to keep vulnerable people from dying, to a boondoggle of a program which cities across the state use to put homeless when they take down their encampments.

While even some of the harshest critics admitted that it was needed early on in the pandemic when nobody knew how bad COVID was ultimately going to be, the program quickly became a way for cities to buy up or rent out less-than-quality motels for millions of dollars and house homeless people without giving regard to what’s best for them.

In a press release on Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state had given a total of $2.753 billion to create 12,676 units for the homeless since 2020.

But, while lawmakers and locals are often heard either being for or against it, the people it is supposed to be helping, the homeless, are left out of the equation. With the help of some homeless agency workers, the Globe talked with several homeless people who either are or were housed by Project Roomkey about what it was really like.

“Our tents were nicer than those places they stuck us,” explained Trevor, a homeless man in LA who stayed in Project Roomkey housing in the city in 2020 and 2021. “We weren’t expecting a Holiday Inn or anything, but we wanted better than —-hole. We didn’t get that. The first one I got had bedbugs, so several of us had to be moved. The next one was better, but the door didn’t exactly fit the door frame so a sliver of light showed through and the rooms’ temperature often met the outside temperature. Then when I went back in 2021 to one of those places, the person running it did daily checks of the room. Not housekeeping, but just looking around feigning some reason to see if we destroyed the place. I got so fed up with that that I left after only a few months.”

“The big reason why me and other people kept leaving wasn’t because of the quality so much as the rules. It made it impossible for a lot of us to get jobs. There’s a lot of horror stories here.”

Bad room conditions, curfew issues abound

Another homeless person, John C., added, “Don’t get me started on that. We were sold on the idea that we were to be given hotel rooms that would function like kitchen-less apartments. As someone who had been living on the street since 2015, that sounded great. I was working a night shift at a convenience store at the time, and I was close to getting a real apartment of my own. Project Roomkey dashed all of that.”

“First of all, they really don’t care where you need to be, and where they put me in a motel was even farther away from my work. Work, which by the way, I wasn’t allowed to go to anymore because it meant giving up my job because of the curfew. We really thought they would care about us, but nope. Several of us actively working to get out of our position either had to quit our jobs to get this housing or quit the housing to keep our jobs. There will be people in that Project who will say that never happened, but it absolutely did. They didn’t go around saying “Hey, quit your job or we throw you out,” but they didn’t need to.”

Trevor added, “The Project makes it harder to get out of homelessness. There’s so many restrictions placed on you. With the shelters, you just can’t leave at night and you need to leave early in the morning. We all know the deal there. Or for living in tents. We know we will get roused by the cops every once in a while. You expect it. We thought this would be different and that they actually help us succeed, but that’s not what happened.”

Gabrielle, who rose up out of homelessness last year, specifically said that it took getting out of Project Roomkey to get out of her chronic homelessness. “I was at all these terrible places like rundown spots or Days Inn’s where you felt so unsafe at night that some us propped the doors at night. Shelters, you know, we sleep in bunks, but there are always people watching. There, they just stuck us and hoped for the best.”

“Staying at the Motels was hard because it was often at inconvenient locations. I actually got a job in Long Beach while staying at one and had to go back to living in my tent because they refused to give me a closer room to my work and wouldn’t give me leeway on the curfew. I was in motel rooms, I’m guessing ten months with no improvement in my life. Once out, I had a job and eventually got an apartment within 4 months. It’s not the greatest place in the world, but now I can come and go as I please and I don’t have to worry about a lot of stuff I did with the motels.”

Trevor said, “We need statistics about this. Real statistics about what the rate is for transitioning people out of homelessness from these places. Because that’s the goal with shelters and everything, right? Or that it should be. Getting out of homelessness is not easy, and one wrong move and you’re back in the cycle and back at square one. All they do is get us off the streets for a bit with this Project it seems. And they spent billions on it? It’s crazy.”

“They spend all that money on getting us into these motels, but then don’t follow through on additional help, or sabotage what we had going, then act surprised when we’re back on the street. It’s crazy.”

More state money is expected to go into Project Roomkey in the coming months.

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17 thoughts on “Project Roomkey Housing: Homeless Say it Wasn’t a Benefit

  1. “$2.753 billion to create 12,676 units for the homeless since 2020”
    Sit with those figures. Ask yourself do you see more homeless on the streets today or less?
    I see more!
    Now, think about this, it cost over $217,000 per unit for 2 years of TEMPORARY subpar housing.
    It never addressed the root of the issue.
    Who is benefiting from this grift?
    This is a criminal enterprise paid with our taxdollars!

  2. Thank you Evan Symon. Great information, and from the horse’s mouth — those who are supposed to have been helped by this boondoggle program, but weren’t, of course. At great expense and damage to all involved.

  3. Homelessness is a difficult issue in the U.S. Many don’t want help, others think they don’t have a mental prob/drug addiction!

  4. I live in a motel voucher program in San Jose, CA. the woman that runs this motel is very rude. I have cockroaches everywhere, in my fridge, my microwave. We are not allowed visitors, we can’t associate with other clients, only at the smoking table. I can’t walk very well. I need a knee replacement. it hurts during the holidays. I feel like I’m in jail. My case mgr messed up on my paperwork for my permanent housing. Now I’m on a wait-list again for another complex. the only good thing about it is that I’m getting a one bedroom whenever the construction is done. I’ve been there for 8 months. I call it Motel Hell

    1. I am sorry for the situation you find yourself in Debbie.
      I hope help comes soon for you. Unfortunately we cannot depend on our state government to do the right thing. I would suggest contacting the San Jose Mercury and ABC7 and tell them your story. A light needs to be shone so the real cockroaches will be exposed.
      God Bless You.

    2. Why did you choose to live in one of the most expensive areas in this state? Can you work. There are many other much lower cost areas in this state. Many people choose to move at various stages of their lives, when it best suits their needs. Have you looked at mobile homes in places like Olivehusrt, Lake County or even Trona, CA? Shelter and social welfare services will go a lot farther outside of the SF Bay area. A lot farther.

  5. These are sad stories but I’ve heard the opposite from folks also.. I have a friend who was homeless for years and was put in one of these hotels and he loves it, Hesse proud of his little room, he’s decorated it, got himself a large screen TV, he’s always asking people to come visit him so he can show off his little place. He says there’s transportation to take him to and from appointments that picks him up at his door. There is an AA meeting held on the premises for those trying to get off of alcohol or drugs and counselors on premises 5 days a week who help w all kinds of issues, from mental health issues to helping get drivers licenses etc. He’s been there for 2 years now and is very grateful for the program. Sounds like these places are being run differently in different counties.

  6. Fresno. CA. THE CROSSROADS VILLAGE, I WAS exposed to extreme heat, the thermostat was for all the units, set on hot or cold, the tenants’ had no control of room temperature. My unit was extremely poorly ventilated. My air filter allowed particulate matter to pass threw the filter (wrong filter), I had small grains and rocks blow onto my bed, constant dust my skin was itchy and dry, God only knows what else, was it absestos…asbestos….I have never experienced bed bugs before this motel. I thought it was caused from breathing particulate matter. My skin problems, I had sores. Heart and lungs also effected, after 15 months and much complaining and contacting Housing Enforcement the filter was changed, this job took less than 10 minutes to perform. I also, breathed what I belive to be hydrochloric acid for 6 weeks, this occurred through the ceiling vents into the room. I was also, exposed to gasoline fumes from another tenants room. By the time management responded weeks later, the fire department, security, FPD and apartment staff intervened.
    24/7 time-line breathing pesticides in a poorly ventilated room, one of my cats died of kidney failure, the other is presently dying from pancreas and diabetes associated problems. I am an animal lover, I thought we would all be safe……Furthermore, miro-wave gave back to management, research shows that they are unhealthy, heating plate took a 1/2 hour to warm up, I returned to management as well. Cook, wash dishes in tub, sink in restroom….unsanitary conditions, small dinky refrigerator,
    difficulty keeping cooked food. Lack of ADA accommodations
    Several of the tenants have died at the Crossroads, (hushed) for unknown reasons. I was provided a box from maintenance, my room is very dark, unknown to me, a dirty needle was at the bottom, stuck to some packaging, while breaking down box, “I was stuck with a dirty needle.” Unsafe environment for a number of reasons, my comment only reflects and reports some of the problems, I was assaulted and another time, almost run over by a tenants vehicle…..and the list goes on……

    1. Can you apply for some of the short-term vocational training programs at Fresno City College, so you can get out on your own once you get a good skills package?

      Local community colleges are the life line for so many to get to a better place in their lives. They offer tuition waivers, grants, in-depth support services for first time college students and those struggling with disabilities. They remain an under-appreciated gem within our array of state-funded services. There are even non-credit skills certificates, so no exams or tests – just a package of employment-enhancing skills to give one a leg up when getting a sustaining new job.

  7. The more people dependent upon the welfare industrial complex the more money these “non profits” get to spend on themselves and their woke projects. Working as a Social Worker in the Democrats failed social welfare policies in CA showed me this firsthand. It isn’t about a hand up, really helping people and real resources for the people and workers but about keeping people dependent for power and control. CA is a mess with their failed social welfare policies and their failed “criminal justice reform” policies which has created this huge homeless, drug and mental health crisis. Also their failed environmental policies hasn’t helped as it has stymied both the housing and job markets for blue collar workers or those without skills. Interesting article and I feel bad for these people who are being used as pawns.

  8. Happy to learn the lousy free conditions motivated some people to move on in their own lives to something more suitable, on their own terms.

    What would have happened to their lives, had the free stuff been more comfortable? I believe the phrase – beggars can’t be choosers precedes this current “homeless” epidemic. But remains good advice.

    Even Gov Jerry Brown wanted prisons to be dank and unwelcoming, as a disincentive; not a country club where one would be indulged . Moral of this story – tough love is the best love.

  9. Lessons from Michael Shallenbergers “San Fransicko” – both carrot and stick are needed. At all times.

    And triage those who simply cannot function on their own into state lockdown care facilities. Stop harvesting out the higher functioning elements of this population group, and calling them “homeless success stories” when in fact they have zero impact on the hard core who still remain on the streets who cause 80% of this perpetual problem.

    Those that can will; those that can’t need an entirely different approach – state sanitariums and/or prison for the trespass, public indecency and the health and safety violations we all face. Plus punishment for failure to pay property taxes.

  10. what noone is saying , is that it’s nearly impossible to find a place even with a voucher. Calif housing costs are absolutely ridiculous. I’m Lucky I am a veteran and there’s help available .I pity those on the proverbial waiting list and living with cockroaches be they human or insect is never okay

  11. I want to see those 12,676 housing units they created. Every damn one of them. Some how I suspect that this is all on paper. If an audit was done it would be some hotel rooms they rented or commandeered. Virtually all that money has probably gone to corruption.

  12. Homeless Inc staff members who have sociology degrees. They demand five staffers, to provide 24 hour duty for each vagrant under custody. They care, as long as the grant lasts. Then move on to the next shakedown. They are hugely expensive “professionals”, with no track record of success – just very expensive baby sitting until the money dries up.

    More grifters put on the public payroll – this is an art form in this state. Raid the treasury and hire the relatives.

  13. Maybe California Globe can find out who’s getting rich off of California taxpayers under Gov. Newsom’s bogus Project Roomkey and Homekey spending schemes?

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