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Report: California Struggles To Fill Hotel Rooms It Booked For Homeless People
Los Angeles, CA, MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2020 - A scene from the first floor of the USC Hotel where USC medical staff are allowed to self-quarantine after working in high-risk hospital. USC and Keck Medicine have launched a program to ease the job stress that Keck health care workers are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic. Their program offers free housing, comfort amenities and mental health support to high-risk staff employed by Keck Medicine, including employees at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. The program is available to staff who have had direct exposure to COVID-19 and want to self-quarantine away from home or safeguard family members. Additionally, housing is available for workers needing a respite. Housing includes accommodations on the Health Sciences Campus, the USC Hotel or in corporate housing downtown.
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Well over a month into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA)  temporary housing plan for at-risk homeless people, California has struggled to fill hotel rooms and individual counties are seeing mixed results.  

The Los Angeles Times reported that the governor’s office has secured over 15,619 hotel rooms across the state as of Monday via the Project Roomkey initiative, which seeks to put homeless people most at-risk of coronavirus complications into hotel rooms. Of these rooms, 7,700 remain empty. 

The Times reported that the program, which operates largely at the county level, has also run into different logistical problems, depending on the region. 

For example, in Los Angeles County, the government hasn’t been able to negotiate room contracts fast enough, prompting activists to call for the county to seize the hotel industry. In the Sacramento area, the project has been slowed due to a lack of providers to help operate the hotels, a problem that could soon reach Los Angeles. 

“Unless we can bring in more human capital to do this work, we’re going to have a hard time continuing to expand capacity,” Heid Marston, interim executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, told The Times. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, San Francisco has procured 3,178 hotel rooms and RV units through its Alternative Housing Program, of which 2,176 are ready to be occupied, but only 1,347 actually are occupied. 

In addition to providing rehabilitation services for homeless people, the San Francisco Department of Health said it would provide free alcohol and tobacco, obtained through private donations, to some participants in the program to discourage them from leaving, according to SFGate. 

“Managed alcohol and tobacco use makes it possible to increase the number of guests who stay in isolation and quarantine and, notably, protects the health of people who might otherwise need hospital care for life-threatening alcohol withdrawal,” said the health department. 

It’s not clear whether the drugs are only available to people who want to participate in treatment, but the department has said substances are distributed by licensed doctors. 

“Many isolation and quarantine guests tell us they use substances daily, and this period in our care has allowed some people to connect for the first time with addiction treatment and harm reduction therapy,” said the department.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) statistics show that the state of California had approximately 150,000 homeless people in 2019, and as recently as 2017, the state was home to one in four of the nation’s homeless people. Approximately 60,000 of those people live in Los Angeles County, and about 8,000 live in San Francisco. 

That said, recent reports suggest that the homeless population in San Francisco has been growing, as people migrate to the city in the hopes of snagging a free hotel room, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“People are showing up in San Francisco from other places and asking where their hotel room is,” said Mayor London Breed in late April. “That’s a real problem for me.”

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