State frees up motel, hotel rooms as temporary shelters

Coronavirus
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In his daily address Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the steps California is taking to protect the state’s “most vulnerable residents” during the coronavirus pandemic: people experiencing homelessness.

The governor said at least one unsheltered person has already died of COVID-19 in the state, and referred to the number of confirmed positive tests in the homeless population as an “under-count,” because of the challenges of screening those people.

Through “Project Room Key,” California is now making motel and hotel rooms available for people without a place to “stay at home” as ordered by the state. Just under 7,000 rooms are already ready for occupancy and more than 800 people have moved in, according to Newsom. The governor said the rooms will be filled gradually in the coming days and weeks.

About 75% of funding for the rooms comes from FEMA, which has also provided trailers for temporarily housing people, the governor said. Emergency grants on the state level are helping fulfill the rest of the money needed for occupancy leases.

FEMA provided eligibility requirements for who can receive housing under Project Room Key: people who are coronavirus-positive, who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, or people who are designated “high-risk” based on their age or overall health status.

The ultimate goal is to procure 15,000 rooms, according to the governor.

The statewide project is just one layer of California’s approach to homelessness during the pandemic, Newsom said, noting that counties and cities across the region are implementing their own strategies. In San Diego, for example, Golden Hall and the convention center have been converted into shelters, and motel rooms have served as places to quarantine those without a place to stay.

“We’re not just thinking short-term,” Newsom added, saying he hopes the “triage” coronavirus measures will serve as a springboard for people finding housing and services long-term. That includes potentially changing temporary housing into a full-time home for people who have already moved in.

Read more about the state’s housing and homelessness resources here.

Newsom said there were 10,710 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state (though independent counts vary), with 2,188 people in the hospital for treatment of the virus and 901 in intensive care units.

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