On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California and FEMA have created a new program to house homeless Californians at risk of contracting COVID-19 coronavirus in hotel rooms.
Under the plan, known as “Project Room Key”, 15,000 hotel rooms across the state will be used to temporarily house the at-risk homeless.
“By helping the most vulnerable homeless individuals off the street and into isolation, California can slow the spread of COVID-19 through homeless populations, lower the number of people infected and protect critical health care resources,” stated Newsom at his Friday press conference. “We’re working hard with our county partners to get these hotels up and running as rapidly as possible.”
Currently 7,000 of the 15,000 needs rooms have been booked by the state. FEMA will be paying for 75% of the project through reimbursements. However, both California and the counties with hotels participating will have to stay withing FEMA guidelines.
Other services have also been secured for the sites. World Central Kitchen from Chef Jose Andres will be giving three meals a day at hotel sites. Healthcare and behavioral health assistance are to be provided by county and community groups.
The need for such a large-scale program arose after news of more homeless people contracting COVID-19 in California, along with a growing need to stop traditional homeless shared shelter space to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“This was an extreme measure, especially at a time when many people with jobs who were furloughed or were laid off who are now facing homelessness themselves after evictions resume,” noted Sherri Radinsky, a longtime Los Angeles homeless volunteer. “But people need to realize the danger here. Homeless people are more susceptible to viruses and diseases, and because many stay nearby each other or visit the same places, disease spreads fast, especially with improper hygiene.”
“And that can spread to volunteers or shelters workers, or outside that, to people in stores or streets where they panhandle, and at this point a lot of people are likely to have been infected.”
“This is not a perfect plan. There’s over 100,000 homeless in California, so only removing 15,000 is only a part of it. But they will be the most likely to get it and spread it, so this will vastly lower the spread in the most humane way we can muster.”
“At this point shelters are no longer options, and being on the streets harms only more people. This won’t stop the spread among homeless, but it will curtail it for them and for the state.”
California is the first state to have a FEMA partnered plan on homeless hotel room use to keep stay at home orders in effect. If successful, the program may be picked up by other states.