Gov. Gavin Newsom poured another $62 million into his waning Project Roomkey program Monday, part of an ongoing effort to prevent any of the more than 22,000 homeless Californians sheltering in pandemic hotels from ending up back on the street.
The money, which comes from the state’s Disaster Response Emergency Operations Account, will go to counties that have put up homeless Californians in hotels during the pandemic. The emergency cash injection comes as the pandemic hotels are starting to close in the Bay Area and beyond.
The bulk of the funds — $35 million — will go toward rehousing Project Roomkey residents. That money is for rental subsidies, case management, housing navigation and landlord incentives, and other housing expenses. Another $24 million will help prop up the existing Project Roomkey program, allowing residents to remain in their hotel rooms until they can obtain permanent housing. The last $3 million will go toward technical assistance — helping counties contract with experienced housing providers and create rehousing plans.
“Alameda County welcomes the Governor’s announcement of additional support for Project Roomkey leased hotels and for moving our homeless residents into housing,” Kerry Abbott, director of homeless care and coordination at the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, wrote in a news release. “This takes time and resources and California’s leadership continues to excel by partnering with counties to shelter and house homeless people during COVID-19.”
Newsom launched Project Roomkey in April, pledging FEMA funding and federal CARES Act money to reimburse counties that used hotels to shelter homeless residents considered vulnerable to COVID-19. But with that funding set to dry up, counties around the Bay Area are winding down the program and either closing or planning to close the hotels — causing activists to worry residents displaced by the closures will end up back on the streets.
To avoid that, Newsom has doled out $800 million to cities and counties so they can buy hotels, apartments and other buildings and turn them into long-term homeless housing — an effort dubbed Project Homekey. But that won’t create enough housing for everyone, and many of the units will take months to complete.
Monday’s new funding is intended to fill some of the gaps.
“Project Roomkey exceeded all expectations, providing safe shelter to more than 22,300 Californians experiencing homelessness,” Newsom said, according to a news release. “But this pandemic is very much still with us – and we can’t take our eye off the ball. That’s why we’re supporting our counties with this new money, so they can continue this critical life-saving Roomkey mission and help clients transition into more stable, permanent housing. At the end of the day, our top objective for this new funding is keeping everyone – including people experiencing homelessness – safe from COVID-19.”
Newsom’s administration has expressed hope that the legislature may consider further expanding the Project Homekey program when it reconvenes in January.
“While allocating more funding for Project Roomkey helps in the short-term,” said Budget Committee Chair Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), according to the news release. “I look forward to collaborative budget discussions with the administration about reducing homelessness, focusing on smart investments and long-term housing solutions.”