Report: Half of California’s 15,000 Hotel Rooms for Homeless Are Empty

Operation Roomkey homeles hotel (App Gomes / AFP / Getty)
Apu Gomes / AFP / Getty

Half of the 15,000 hotel rooms leased under Operation Roomkey, California’s program to provide emergency housing to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, are empty.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Tuesday:

More than a month into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s program to get homeless people off the streets, the occupied rooms account for — at most — less than 5% of the 151,000 people who sleep on street corners, under bridges and in emergency shelters across California.

As of Monday, 7,919 hotel rooms had guests and another 7,700 were vacant, according to figures released by Newsom’s office.

The actual number of leased rooms in the statewide program known as Project Roomkey could be even lower since Newsom’s goal also included rooms reserved for people, homeless or not, who needed to quarantine or isolate themselves because of the coronavirus.

The report adds that the major obstacle has been the lack of services to provide for the needs of homeless people — not local “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) opposition:

In some counties, the largest impediments have been delays in preparing leased rooms for occupancy, not, as the governor has complained, NIMBY interests at the local level. In other counties, it has been a shortage of staff to care for homeless residents, providing services, such as food services, security, nursing and case management.

In San Francisco, local authorities provided homeless residents in hotels with alcohol, marijuana, and methadone to prevent people from leaving their quarters and returning to the streets.

Still, occupancy has been less than anticipated — even in Los Angeles, where occupancy rates for rooms leased for the homeless has been higher.

Last week, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city would begin winding down its controversial plan to house homeless people in recreation centers in residential neighborhoods.

The plan was aimed at moving homeless people out of informal encampments, where public health officials feared they would be more susceptible to contracting — and spreading — coronavirus.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that moving homeless people indoors to “congregate” settings actually posed a greater risk, both to the homeless and to surrounding communities.

San Francisco, which began the pandemic with a similar policy to L.A.’s, actually reversed course and began keeping homeless people outside. The city’s first officially-sanctioned homeless camp — with specially-marked rectangles keeping tents “socially distant” — opened this week near City Hall.

As a result of Garcetti’s decision, some recreation centers originally slated for conversion into temporary homeless shelters, such as the Palisades Recreation Center — which triggered opposition from the community and legal action from a local resident — will not be used at all, the Palisades News reported Tuesday.

L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin told the Palisades News that he hoped the cooperation of federal, state, and local government in tackling homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic could lead to future projects that would make a “dent” in the problem.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reimbursing 75% of the costs of Operation Roomkey.

Throughout the country, there has been less demand than anticipated for extra hotel beds, for ventilators, and for testing kits, as the Trump administration mobilized both private and public resources to prepare for worst-case scenarios that never happened.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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