Spotlight on Project Roomkey

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the recent surge in cases of COVID-19 underscores the lifesaving benefits of Project Roomkey, which ensures that the most vulnerable people living on the streets – the elderly and medically frail – have a place to stay safe.

Winston Forney smiles from the door of his new hotel room. All photos by Michael Owen Baker / County of Los Angeles

Launched by Governor Gavin Newsom on April 3rd, Project Roomkey is a first-in-the-nation initiative to use hotel and motel rooms for vulnerable, elderly homeless individuals and couples most at risk of contracting COVID-19 but have no symptoms.

As of July 13, the State of California, LA County CEO’s Homeless Initiative, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, and nonprofit homeless services providers have together been able to put 3,726 people into Project Roomkey hotels and motels countywide, and provide them with a range of services as well.

They were able to accomplish this in part because Measure H, the voter-approved ballot initiative championed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, has dramatically expanded the region’s homeless services infrastructure in recent years.

Michael Melcher, Project Roomkey Client, slept in his car prior to staying at a Project Roomkey motel. He feels fortunate to have a room during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 30th, Governor Newsom announced plans to transition to a new phase – Homekey –which he said would allow for the largest expansion of housing for people experiencing homelessness in recent history, while simultaneously addressing their continuing health and social service needs.

According to the Governor’s office, counties will partner with the state to acquire and rehabilitate a variety of housing types under the Homekey program. This includes hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, residential care facilities, and other tiny homes.
Counties and cities will identify which buildings they intend to purchase and apply to the state for $550 million in grant funding dedicated to this purpose. Once acquired, they will plan for the long-term social services and subsidy needs of the Homekey buildings, with access to $50 million in dedicated Homekey support and an additional $300 million in general local homelessness support which can be used for Homekey, among other priorities

In addition to these fund sources, counties and cities can access billions more in additional federal stimulus funding which, while available for a variety of purposes, is eligible to be used to provide safe shelter for homeless individuals during the pandemic.

Crystal Watkins in her new hotel room. LA County, with LAHSA and St. Joseph Center are helping vulnerable people who are experiencing homelessness move from a shelter into a hotel to be housed during the COVID-19 pandemic.