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CAMPBELL – California has achieved its goal of securing more than 15,000 hotel rooms to become sick and vulnerable residents are displaced on the streets and out of shelters, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Saturday, but filling them with proven people much slower.
The state has moved 4,211 homeless people to temporary hotel and motel rooms, Newsom said, filling around 38 percent of the nearly 11,000 rooms rented by California.
Standing with local officials outside Motel 6 in Campbell, Newsom said Saturday that the country had reached an agreement with the lodging giant to lease 5,025 other rooms at locations in 19 counties, pushing past the 15,000-room destination it had set for initiative known as Project Roomkey when it was launched earlier this month. More than 150,000 people are homeless in California.
Newsom said state officials were also looking for ways they could help the city and district governments finally buy the hotels and motels they rent to make permanent housing for the homeless after the corona virus subsided. However, the details of doing so are sparse, because Newsom said funding might have to come from a mix of local, state, federal and private philanthropic sources.
The immediate goal, however, is for thousands of hotel beds rented in California to accommodate homeless people who have tested positive for corona virus or are exposed to people infected with the virus, as well as those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are elderly or have certain medical conditions.
But only a small portion of hotel rooms purchased for emergency shelters in the Bay Area have been filled – often frustrating supporters looking for a place to accommodate vulnerable people as a group of coronavirus cases appearing in homeless shelters.
“We announced this two weeks ago, with respect I think this is a rather heroic effort in terms of being able to organize and mobilize and move forward,” Newsom said when asked about the slow transfer of people to the room.
In some cases, the problem is that local governments are blocking efforts to move homeless people to hotels, Newsom said.
“There are people who just look away and say it’s someone else’s problem and point fingers, and we have some of them unfortunately,” he said. “My heart is also fixed on them. I understand politics. That’s difficult.”
Even those who welcomed the idea faced challenges because these efforts needed collaboration between local, state and federal governments.
“The process is not overnight,” Newsom said. “There are several layers here, and in each case there are complexities and nuances that need to be resolved.”
The reaction from advocates for homeless people varied. Andrea Urton, CEO of the Santa Clara County HomeFirst shelter operator, said he was accustomed to dealing with slow-moving government bureaucracies.
“People work as fast as possible,” Urton said.
Urton said he could see the difference made by this effort – the one shelter they managed in Sunnyvale had changed from 175 residents to only 88 when people moved to hotels and new area shelters, which made it possible to further maintain social distance.
“I really hope it will recover,” he said. “I think that power has done a great job so far.”
But not everyone feels the speed is sufficient for the scale of the crisis.
“The country is not moving fast enough, they could have seized more hotel rooms faster,” said Candice Elder, founder and executive director of the East Oakland Collective. For homeless people who are trying to find shelter, the Elder said, “Barriers to entry are high, the process is difficult.”
In Oakland, where city officials said they had secured 393 rooms in two hotels, only 56 homeless people had been offered lodging and 46 had moved on Thursday. Dozens of state-owned trailers brought into the homes of homeless people in Oakland, and more than 100 similar trailers in San Jose, all sitting empty because officials said they were still being prepared for people to move.
San Francisco moved 874 people to 1,271 rooms on Wednesday. Meanwhile in San Mateo District, where officials have not yet determined how many rooms total has been obtained, 72 people have moved to hotels on Friday.
The elder said his organization was part of a coalition that had paid hotel rooms for residents not living in vulnerable homes who had not been able to enter government-run rooms.
One of which is Delbra Taylor, 68 years old, who are pre-diabetic and have hypertension. Despite his high risk for COVID-19, he hasn’t been able to get a room at a hotel rented by Alameda County. Before the Elder organization helped him get a hotel room, Taylor said it was impossible to follow health recommendations during a pandemic while staying in his car.
“We can’t fight disease without tools,” Taylor said. “We don’t have tools to use the bathroom, we don’t have tools to wash hands.”
The elder said he had heard from others who turned down hotel rooms because they were worried about restrictions on their ability to make important trips or carry their belongings. He said many also worried that after the crisis ended, they would return to the streets without tents and other important supplies they needed to survive.
People who cannot enter hotel rooms or shelter face additional challenges – libraries, gymnasiums, coffee shops or other insignificant businesses where before they could take a shower, use the bathroom or charge their phones, they are now closed.
Urton and Elder hope that some of the hotel rooms will become a permanent part of the government’s way of dealing with the housing crisis. Newsom and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who spoke with the governor at Saturday’s event, wanted to see that happen too – although they stressed the local government which is now looking at a deep budget deficit will need help to resolve it.
“We don’t want these rooms to only be opened for a few weeks or a few months,” Liccardo said. “Let’s give the country and city the dollars they need to buy motels so we can really aggressively overcome the homeless crisis that will be here far beyond the time this pandemic has passed.”
Staff writing Marisa Kendall contributed reporting.
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