The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to find long-term housing for homeless individuals housed temporarily in motels, hotels and elsewhere during the coronavirus outbreak.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion recommending a plan for continuity of housing.
“Since the pandemic began, L.A. County and city have done a remarkable thing. We placed nearly 4,000 medically fragile homeless men and women in temporary housing with more to come,” Kuehl said. “With this motion, we look to the future and ask for a plan to identify and pay for permanent housing for these elderly and sick individuals, many of whom suffer from serious medical conditions. No one wants to see these very frail men and women put back on the streets.”
Ridley-Thomas said the push to temporarily house vulnerable residents was driven by an unprecedented public-private partnership of city officials, private hotel owners, public sector health care workers, disaster volunteers and community nonprofits.
“There can be no truer test of our values than this collective effort to bring our most vulnerable inside and connect them to long-term stable housing,” he said.
Project Roomkey has been the centerpiece of the county’s efforts to move quickly in the face of the pandemic, taking advantage of unused hotel and motels rooms to house the homeless. So far, at least 23 hotel or motel sites have been used to house 1,800 individuals, according to Ridley-Thomas.
The county has also moved to find other spaces to safely isolate and quarantine high-risk homeless individuals, such as those over 65 years old or with underlying health conditions.
Ridley-Thomas said the average age of the homeless people who have been brought indoors to protect them from the coronavirus is 54, noting that many look 15 to 20 years older.
“That’s how harsh homelessness is,” Ridley-Thomas said.
The agreements under Project Roomkey only guarantee housing for three months. Kuehl said the time is right to find longer-term solutions for these vulnerable county residents.
“We have assets to start, coronavirus relief funds, Measure H housing resources, philanthropic partners lining up to help,” Kuehl said. “If we draft a bold plan and commit to it, I believe that the state and the (federal) government will continue to help us, as well.”
The board directed the county CEO and lobbyists to continue to push for federal and state funding. CEO Sachi Hamai said she understood that the latest and fourth coronavirus relief bill — set to go before the House of Representatives — includes additional funding for counties and cities.
Project Roomkey has not been without its detractors. In April, the Norwalk City Council passed an emergency moratorium seeking to block the county from converting properties into temporary housing for the homeless without the city’s approval. The county sought and gained a court injunction allowing it to move forward with one hotel site.
The city councils of Bell Gardens and Lynwood followed suit. The county’s CEO issued an executive order directing county lawyers to take necessary legal action against cities seeking to interfere with emergency measures.
The board ratified that executive order Tuesday, signaling its willingness to take the fight to any city that stands in the way of its plans.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger thanked cities in her district that have stepped up.
“I am proud of Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster … that have stood tall,” Barger said. “It shows that we can move mountains when we have to.”
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