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Project Roomkey. (Photo: LACounty.gov)

Project Roomkey To Wrap Up Hotel Stays For Homeless In California

It was a $100 million program that, in the end, only housed less than 5,000 people

By Evan Symon, September 24, 2020 6:00 pm

This week, hotels across California began another wave of emptying rooms as ‘Project Roomkey‘, California’s $100 million project to secure temporary shelter for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans its wrap up.

An end to Project Roomkey

The Project formally started ending stays at hotels in August, but has been expanding ends of stays to other hotels this month. While some hotels will still have booked rooms to keep people housed for at least a few more months, the last of Roomkey’s hotels is expected to end in February 2021.

Governor Gavin Newsom announcing Project Roomkey figures in Campbell on April 18, 2020. (Photo: Youtube)

Despite a promising start in April, by the summer Project Roomkey had become notorious for leaving hotel rooms largely vacant. At its highest point, the state only filled out about half of the hotel rooms it had rented, with statistics from May showing that only around 7,000 of the 17,000 hotel rooms had been filled. While counties such as Sacramento and San Francisco were well above the filled-room average, counties such as San Diego and Orange barely reached a quarter filled. In the city of Los Angeles, the filled percentage never reached above 30%.

While the Project had planned to increase the percentages going into the fall because of colder weather and a possible new wave of COVID-19 cases, funding problems caused a premature end to the program. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which paid for 75% of the $100 million program, wavered on funding in recent months, causing the Project to end gradually and keep as many housed as possible rather than ending abruptly and sending thousands of homeless people back on the street overnight.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) has said that they will keep as many housed as the project runs down.

“Our first priority is those who are in the hotels,” said LAHSA executive director Heidi Marston on Wednesday. “We don’t want them exiting back to the street.”

As there are still around 4,000 people on the program, LAHSA and other homeless groups will work to re-shelter those people as the need arises in the coming months.

Issues over Project Roomkey from day one

Many critics have said that the end result was predictable, as the state and different counties had been slow to temporarily rehouse people.

“It was a $100 million program that, in the end, only housed less than 5,000 people,” former county-homeless liaison Edgar Powe explained to the Globe. “Not only was it mismanaged, but they forgot how many homeless people actually volunteer for this sort of thing.”

“Seasoned homeless people are vary wary of relocations because they have been burned by them before, such as anytime they are forced out of areas for big events that come up. Others prefer the street and there is no helping them. Others have a line on more stable housing and don’t want to jeopardize it. Others didn’t want that 7 P.M. curfew and found it insulting. And the list goes on.”

“A lot of the hotels were actually far away from usual areas of homeless services. And despite Project Roomkey having food and shelter and some medical provided free of charge, they forgot about all the other needs. Some wanted to go to church, some wanted to visit family who were far away. Some wanted to get jobs but couldn’t because their hotel was too far away.”

“It should have been way more localized and there should have been options for hotel room transfers to meet needs and to help them get out of homelessness. That’s why it failed. From those I talked to, it was great having a roof over their head and eating like they haven’t have eaten for years, but after awhile it all became monotonous. The homeless agencies weren’t finding people fast enough, and they were not giving homeless people who did join up the options to do everything they needed, including finding work.”

“Los Angeles is a special note because they only went after hotels with more than 100 rooms and not the many, struggling smaller hotels who really wanted the business and would have had many more homeless stay longer due to a more geographically diverse list of options. Other counties did that too. They ignored the small ones, and as a result, many felt like there was no choice on where to go.”

“That’s why this is ending. That’s why the hotels are emptying again.”

Some homeless assistance leaders did note some positive aspects of the program, such as the number of hotels willing to help on discount and housing a large number of people in a short period of time.

“There were aspects that I think were a huge success,” noted LAHSA governing commission chair Sarah Dusseault. “Housing that many people in a short period of time, I think that is extremely successful. Nothing on that scale has ever been attempted before.”

But with a program wasting around $50 million of federal and state money on blocks of empty hotel rooms and a return to a higher homeless percentage due to a return to the streets for many – a number already found to be at least 20% of those who left the Project so far.

The program is now expected to last until February, coasting on remaining pledged city and county money, as well as remaining CARES Act funding that went to Project Roomkey.

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41 thoughts on “Project Roomkey To Wrap Up Hotel Stays For Homeless In California

  1. Well, in Orange County they were telling people that they had no rooms. I survived the lock down living in my car. It was extremely rough. And I’m 61. Not a druggie. Worked till covid. Couldn’t live where I was due to covid. I had nothing for 2 months. Getting a drink of water was next to impossible, but it was better since there was almost no place to use a restroom. We heard that the rooms were for the prisoners being released and for the illegals that needed to quarantine. Sounded like CA, so probably no one doubted it. Without the Pandemic assistance in unemployment, I would have just killed myself. Seriously. Ca and newsom cant manage crap. ( ha ha , as seen by the streets of Frisco). Its been a rough road. I want out of CA but can not afford it. Citizens keep taking 2nd place to illegals and criminals.

    1. In San Francisco, unless you were already living in a tent on the sidewalk, there was no chance in hell of getting one of their hotel rooms. The whole idea was to get rid of the tents, not help the homeless. So someone like me, who lost his job and housing right before COVID hit, doesn’t have a tent or car to sleep in, and won’t be considered for a room is basically screwed. Add to that being HIV-positive and I worry constantly about being exposed to the virus. And then you have the EDD nightmare keeping my claim in some weird limbo state for several months, so no income. The state and city have done nothing but pile on the difficulties. Finding a job right now? Loads more difficult. And if you do find one? Imagine trying to keep it if there are no shelters open and you have to sleep on the street at night. Lucky enough to get a work from home job? What home? I don’t know how I’ve made it this far, and there are a lot far worse off than me out there. The virus sucks, but how the world adapted to it sucks even more. If I hear one more person bitch about the loneliness of staying home all the time or no more live sports events… Boo hoo! I wonder if they’d like to trade places with me?

      1. The sad part Jeff is that people get these rooms whom really doesn’t qualify and doesn’t need them. My family member husband lives at one of the motels and he goes back and forth to his home with her. He left home in july and has been living with another women at the Motel. They have no curfew, drug use alcohol use and they can come and go as they want being gone 3 or more days they do not hold these people accountable and unlike you he has a car and a reasonable source of income

    2. I agree with you. I am in LA & was in PRK for 95 days. The room was beautiful, clean & comfortable, I did not mind the curfew, the food wasn’t bad, nurses were friendly & professional, but security guards were vulgar, rude & only video chatted with their girlfriends or watched movies on their cellphones, the wifi sucked so made it impossible for online courses I was enrolled in & tuition paid for. The hotel refused to allow us (homeless staying in their hotel) to use the underground parking so being in DTLA there was absolutely no where for me to park. Only option was $34 over night parking lot & I could not afford it. And there was no laundry facility. And the nearest public laundromat was 9 blocks away, which made it very difficult for me & for others to was our laundry. Staff did not offer any help nor solution. Requirement for PRK was 65 years old or older or an underlying health condition but we were expected to get to a laundromat 9 blocks away with our laundry. After 95 days I was told there is no more funding for PRK so I left. I have been staying in my car since then, one month ago.

      1. Wow that’s crazy. I don’t know what hotel you were staying at but didn’t sound like you put your foot down to report people not doing their job professionally.
        The internet is fine where I am. I was able to complete my Security course and already have my guard card. I’m just waiting for something else to arrive in the mail, then I can start work.

    3. Vagabond Glendale Ca Corrupt in every way. Violating human rights bullying by the first to serve staff participants starving Not Covid safe everyone except participants have a key to rooms and enter when they want never talked about housing until last month lies after lies. They get away with all the corruption. Everyone there are not druggies there are few that hit a hardship due to covid was told they woyld get help with housing and nothing. Yesterday everyone received attention letters saying gather all their belongings have it ready for when its tome to go from their unit and boxes are available. There are 2-3 disabled whom can stand on their own and nurses dont help thus place is corrupt corrupted

  2. Classic government efficiency. Colossal waste for something that should have never been done. Housing 5,000 homeless people for a few months should cost no more than a couple of million and that would still be wasteful. The repair bill is going to be EPIC!

  3. you put the 5150 mental cases, heroine junkies, meth tweekers, weed smokers, opioid abusers, the street criminals, those who should be in prison but under AB 109 and Prop 47 and Prop 57 are on the streets, those who work and have a steady income but can’t find any affordable housing and those who found themselves homeless because Gov.Newsom told them their job wasn’t essential and those who just found themselves going through some hard times…put them all under one roof…WHAT CAN GO WRONG ?

    There’s enough housing in California including affordable housing…but no for 40 million people.
    And Sacramentos still has the welcome mat out at the border.

    1. ….and losers from all over the country are being attracted by Big Loser Magnet California because of these policies of constant luxury freebies, whether the luxury freebies pan out when they arrive or not.

  4. I’m in PRK through PATH. We don’t get fed regularly, when we do it’s a sandwich, small water bottle, small apple and goldfish type snack. Same meal, everyday for 6 months. We have to change hotels every 21 days. They forget our checkout dates. It’s great getting a knock on the door to get out. They may or may not provide transportation to the next hotel. Try taking 3 bags on 3 busses from Hollywood to Gardena. Now my back is injured from that. Sometimes we get groceries, but they don’t think about how we’re supposed to take those with us as well. It’s been about 3 months since they gave me groceries. They do a great job picking out the groceries, I was very grateful to have soup, etc. We don’t have a curfew, so they’re are shenanigans ALL night. From 1am-4am is the loudest time where I’m at. Great for PTSD. I wish we had a curfew here, but 7pm for adults is insulting. I’m very active in my housing and mental health, but the 4-5 hour round trip to go back to my area is killing me. They didn’t think this through. This falls under disaster preparedness, which should have had a solid protocol in place. I found a place that wanted to work with me with my voucher, but they couldn’t reach the housing authority. My question is : Why didn’t they use some of the funding to staff the housing authority and marketing campaigns to get landlords on board?

    1. When the project first came out, I was housed at the Vagabond Inn Executive in Burlingame California outside of San Francisco. It was a cool little set up. Each person had their own rooms to shelter in place. Staff from Samaritan House of San Mateo County was in charge of passing out the food that they ordered from a restaurant nearby, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and each resident had to get their temperature checked al least once everyday. If anybody missed 2 temp checks or gone from the hotel more than 2 days, that’s grounds for discharge. I appreciated it cuz being outside in my car with stage 3 liver cancer wasn’t okay and I was worried about the virus. I stayed there for almost 6 months and I was recently discharged on ASSUMPTIONS, NOT FACTS! The staff there was just pretending to work for any clients, and just came to work to suck up some of that money the Feds and State put up to start the project and it showed. None of them had a backbone or balls to stand on their own feet or was capable to make a decision, they always had to call someone for answers. Then the Manager of the hotel was such a BITCH, she would make an issue over nothing. She’s so lonely that she has to get into everybody’s business cuz she doesn’t have her own business. To make a long story short, if only the state and federal knew how these idiots treated the people houses there they’d probably shut it down. When you give Ex drug addicts, Ex Parolees, and Ex Hoodrats a little bit of authority, their head blows up so fat their egos can’t fit the front door. It’s sickening how they transform right in front of your face. It’s too bad the project didn’t do well in LA and SD, but in the Bay Area people up here took advantage of the opportunity, but the people running the program Fucked it up for the people that really needed the room. So I raise up my middle finger to ALL the staff from Samaritan House up north. All of ya”ll can kiss my ass for the that weak ass shit you pulled to try to bring me down along with some other people that wouldn’t take your BS. The truth will come out in the rinse and I hope all of you become homeless just like me, so you know how it feels to be in my shoes.

      1. Unfortunately, you broke a major rule. As you mentioned, you resided at the project for 6 months. Long enough to make plenty of purchases, however not long enough to save for permanent housing. I wish you all the best in your endeavors. Thank you for your support of amazon and your transparent opinions of our staff. We are primed for various opinions. The best come from successful clients. Again, best wishes!

        1. Wow. I’m on the list for Roomkey. I’m starting to wonder if you people throw participants out for dumb reasons to make room for more. I make some purchases from Amazon because I literally lost everything I’d need. Was this person warned about spending money? Damn, that’s a walk on egg shells if he wasn’t. I’m not exactly one who’d take Roomkey for granted. I intend to have somewhere to get working. Maybe it’s better this program failed. It sounds atrocious.


  6. The sad part Jeff is that people get these rooms whom really doesn’t qualify and doesn’t need them. My family member husband lives at one of the motels and he goes back and forth to his home with her. He left home in july and has been living with another women at the Motel. They have no curfew, drug use alcohol use and they can come and go as they want being gone 3 or more days they do not hold these people accountable and unlike you he has a car and a reasonable source of income

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