California has acquired over 15,000 hotel rooms to shelter homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday.
Newsom said a new agreement with the Motel 6 hotel chain will provide an additional 5,025 hotel rooms at 47 locations in 19 counties.
“Today marks an important milestone for our efforts to protect very vulnerable homeless individuals from COVID-19, and to protect our hospitals more broadly from surges that challenge our capacity and stress our system,” the governor said.
Newsom made the announcement outside a Motel 6 in San Jose, where he touted his “Project Roomkey” initiative introduced two weeks ago.
The federal government has agreed to pay 75 percent of costs associated with housing some people experiencing homelessness. The project covers people who test positive or may have been exposed to COVID-19, older homeless people and those with underlying health conditions.
Participating counties are responsible for identifying which individuals need a Project Roomkey placement, and then moving those individuals into the rooms.
While praising municipalities that have stepped in to find temporary housing for the homeless, Newsom said Saturday there were “equivalent number of cities” that are blocking efforts to help the homeless. He wouldn’t name them.
“Please consider the morality of those decisions. Consider the moment we’re in and the ethical question you’re being called and asked upon. Consider your station in life and in history,” the governor said. “All of us will be judged.”
Los Angeles County prosecutors requested an emergency hearing with a federal judge Friday, alleging the cities of Lawndale and Bell Gardens threatened to terminate city permits for hotels and motels participating in the program.
Laguna Hills in Orange County is also pushing back against plans to move homeless people into a hotel, the Orange County Register reported Thursday.
The city filed a lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the county’s plan “poses a direct threat to the health and safety of the surrounding community.”
An attorney representing the city and building owners said there was concern the facility could not be secured which could increase the threat of community spread of the virus.
“If they want to walk out onto the streets, they have the civil rights to do so, just like the rest of us,” Kelly Richardson told the paper.
A judge blocked the plan on Thursday, saying he wanted more information from the county and how the agreement for use of the hotel wasn’t a violation for the development where it was located, the Register reported. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday.
“I don’t have enough before me that tells me the government can automatically do this,” Judge Thomas Delaney said.
There have been concerns that COVID-19 could sweep through the state’s estimated 150,000 homeless people, many of whom have chronic health conditions and lack safe places to quarantine themselves. Homeless populations are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, which can be spread through coughing and sneezing.
In Los Angeles, where more than 30 homeless people have tested positive for coronavirus, medical teams will begin screening people for the virus on the streets, aided by fast-result field tests, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
Those who are infected will be offered transportation to shelters and have hotel rooms set aside for them.
San Francisco is the only city statewide to report a large-scale outbreak at a homeless shelter, after more than 100 people tested positive, including 10 staff members. None of the people was seriously ill when tested, but three have since been hospitalized, public health spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said.
As of Saturday, Newsom said the state has “flattened the curve” of COVID-19 cases, but the region is not yet safe from the virus.
“We’ve certainly flattened the curve. The question is when are we going to see those numbers start to decline on a consistent basis as opposed to an episodic basis,” he said.
Hospitalizations increased 1.3 percent overnight, and the state recorded 87 deaths — one of the highest tolls since the crisis began.
In order to start lifting restrictions and allow businesses to reopen, Newsom has said the state needs to test 25,000 people a day and better track those who are infected, up to about 20,000 a day now. The governor pointed to a continued shortage of test swabs and the chemical agents needed to process the tests.
As of Sunday, there were 30,812 cases of COVID-19 in California with at least 1,148 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.