Los Angeles County officials said Tuesday they have helped 3,000 homeless people move off the street and into hotels and motels over the past seven weeks and are now assessing what’s required to keep them sheltered post-pandemic.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he’s particularly concerned about finding longer-term solutions for individuals 65 and over.
“Project Roomkey is a staggering achievement that would have been inconceivable under different circumstances and it’s critical that we not lose momentum,” Ridley-Thomas said.
“With homelessness and COVID-19, we have a crisis within a crisis that will require us to use all of our might, all of our imagination and all of our available resources to address.”
The program dubbed Program Roomkey uses vacant hotel and motel rooms for homeless individuals, many of whom are elderly, without symptoms of COVID-19 but deemed to be most at-risk if they contract the virus.
The goal is to shelter 15,000 people under the program. Los Angeles’s homeless population based on last year’s point-in-time count was 58,936 people.
The results of this year’s count have not been released. The data is typically made public in late May or early June and is sometimes tied to federal deadlines for submission, which have been extended to June 30 this year due to the pandemic.
Phil Ansell, who leads the county’s Homeless Initiative, shared statistics with the Board of Supervisors that made clear that the vast majority of people of all ages in the program suffer from chronic health issues.
Most also struggle with mental health issues, though the incidence of self-reported mental health problems declines with age.
Heidi Marston, the interim executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said the support system for the county’s homeless population was working more rapidly than ever before during the crisis.
“We are prioritizing people who will likely die if they contract COVID-19,” Marston said.
“It’s going to take a big investment of resources and alignment, but this crisis has seen many parts of our system come together and operate at unprecedented speed. We have every reason to continue to hold ourselves to that standard.”
The county’s Homeless Initiative and LASHA are working together with other nonprofit partners to provide support services to Project Roomkey participants.
“This has been an opportunity for our system to demonstrate that it is nimble and efficient, and we will continue to use this momentum to do what is right and bring our seniors indoors,” Ansell said.
The objective is not to let anyone sheltered during the COVID-19 crisis return to the streets. Keeping individuals housed will require the county to use a mix of solutions, including rapid rehousing strategies, permanent supportive housing, residential care and sober living facilities and rent subsidies.
Marston said success will also depend on the ability to quickly decide who gets priority and assign available housing. Dedicated workers will be needed to help with move-in.
Rolling extensions of leases negotiated the owners of hotels and motels are anticipated. Even as the country reopens for business, it is unclear when travel will resume.
Supervisor Janice Hahn called Project Roomkey “a silver lining of this crisis. We have not only been able to help keep these hotels and motels in business, we have been able to move thousands of senior citizens off of our streets at a rate faster than ever before.”
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