Checkout time: Pandemic hotels for Bay Area homeless residents set to close

The Bay Area is winding down the grand experiment that sheltered
thousands of its homeless residents in safe environments during the
pandemic, raising fresh concerns about the spread of COVID-19 as
officials scramble to find alternative housing.

Gov. Gavin Newsom
launched Project Roomkey
in April, a first-of-its-kind program
that moved unhoused residents into hotels to protect them from the
virus. Six months later, with federal funding sources poised to
expire, Bay Area counties are moving to close those hotels — some
in the next few months.

The program likely will be remembered as a mixed success. It

didn’t come close to reaching everyone
who needed help, but
Project Roomkey proved that — given the funding and motivation
— the Bay Area is capable of quickly mobilizing a vast amount of
resources and personnel to attack the homelessness crisis.

The effort also allowed counties to reduce the number of people
in shelters and allow space for social distancing, which experts
say may have contributed to relatively low positivity rates in many
unhoused communities.

“I do think that Project Roomkey has played a huge role in
decreasing the disasters in the Bay Area,” said Dr. Margot
Kushel, a UCSF professor of medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco
General Hospital and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable
Populations.

Now Kushel wonders if, without the hotels to rely on, the region
can continue avoiding disaster. Experts worry there won’t be
enough housing for everyone who was given a hotel room, and the
proposed solution — putting the remaining residents back in group
shelters — raises new concerns.

“There’s no way to spin it other than to just say there’s
an increased risk of an outbreak. That is just the reality,”
Kushel said. “I think that county governments are facing very
hard choices.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which promised to foot
up to 75% of counties’ Project Roomkey bills for an undetermined
amount of time, may cut off that funding at any moment.
Supplemental funding from the federal CARES Act relief package
expires in December. And with negotiations for a second federal
stimulus package
suspended
, local leaders say they have no option but to start
emptying the hotel rooms.

“If funding is available, we would like to keep the rooms
available to people as long as we need them as part of the COVID
response,” said Kerry Abbott, director of Alameda County’s
Office of Homeless Care and Coordination. “But we understand that
we’ll probably have to taper down as we move people into
housing.”

That’s because leasing hotels, staffing them and providing
services to take care of medically vulnerable guests is expensive.
San Francisco, for example, has more than 2,300 hotel beds in use
at a cost of about $18 million a month — or $260 per bed per
night. That’s much more than funding a navigation center ($100 a
bed per night) or permanent supportive housing ($70 a bed per
night).

To catch homeless residents displaced as hotels close, Newsom
launched a follow-up program — Project Homekey — which so far
has doled out $596 million to cities and counties buying buildings
and converting them into long-term housing. He distributed
his fourth round
of funding Friday, including $3.8 million to
Marin County and $10.9 million to Sonoma County.

Since April, Project Roomkey has sheltered about 22,000 homeless
Californians in hotel rooms up and down the state. In the Bay Area,
the program�may have helped slow the spread of the virus by
reducing crowding in shelters. Between May 20 and Sept. 21, Santa
Clara County tested 3,777 homeless residents living in encampments,
shelters and safe parking sites. Of those, 0.9% were positive —
compared to an average of 2.39% in the general population as of
Sept. 21.

“The numbers are still surprisingly small, and we have yet to
see an outbreak in any of our more congregate settings or sites,
which is great — really great,†said Dr. Mudit Gilotra, medical
director of Santa Clara County’s Valley Homeless Healthcare
Program.

Santa Clara County leased roughly 710 rooms in 10 hotels for
unhoused residents who are elderly, living with chronic illnesses,
or otherwise particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Officials plan to
empty half in the next two months or so. Some of those residents
already have been offered spots in three new modular-home sites in
San Jose, which are opening more than 300 transitional beds.

Officials expect to close the rest of those hotel rooms by the
end of March, said Ky Le, deputy county executive for Santa Clara
County. The county’s quarantine hotel rooms — reserved for
homeless residents and others who have or may have COVID — could
shut down as soon as December.

As of Tuesday, Alameda County was using hotels to shelter 1,064
unhoused people. County officials plan to keep the hotels open at
least through Dec. 31, and have moved 121 people from hotels to
housing.

The county has lined up funding to place another 700 hotel
residents in privately-owned housing with rent subsidies, and the

county
and the city of
Oakland
recently won Project Homekey grants to open about 267
more units of housing by the end of the year.

In San Francisco, Project Roomkey hotels will stop accepting new
residents at the end of November. City officials plan to empty the
hotels by June.

As other housing options fill up, residents in hotels scheduled
for closure around the Bay Area likely will be offered beds in
group shelters.

That worries experts.

“I remain concerned about the use of congregate shelter,â€
Kushel said. “I think there are ways to do it more safely if
they’re sparsely populated, well ventilated, people wear masks,
there’s social distancing within it, and there’s frequent
testing. … I think we’re a ways away from that.â€

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Checkout time: Pandemic hotels for Bay Area homeless
residents set to close