California has launched a program to provide housing for thousands of homeless people to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.
The statewide effort, dubbed “Project Roomkey,” has secured nearly 7,000 rooms to isolate those experiencing homelessness, and officials are looking for another 8,000, according to the governor.
The program will specifically target hotels and motels in counties with large homeless populations that also have a significant number of COVID-19 cases, especially for those who are most at risk of potentially fatal complications from the illness.
Those who are over 65 or have an underlying health condition, or have been exposed to COVID-19, or have tested positive for the virus but don’t need hospitalization, will be prioritized for the temporary housing, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Newsom made the announcement at his daily noon briefing after the state became the first in the U.S to get approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide safe isolation capacity for the specific population.
“By helping the most vulnerable homeless individuals off the street and into isolation, California can slow the spread of COVID-19 through homeless populations, lower the number of people infected and protect critical health care resources,” he said.
FEMA will reimburse the state for up to 75% of the cost, which will include hotel and motel rooms, as well as meals, security and custodial services, according to officials.
Other services, such as health care, will be provided as needed by local governments and community partners.
The emergency protective measure aims to encourage physical distancing by reducing homeless populations including at shelters, which officials in turn hope will slow the virus’ spread and help flatten the curve.
“Homeless Californians are incredibly vulnerable to COVID-19 and often have no option to self-isolate or social distance,” Newsom said.
As of Friday, California has about 10,700 cases of coronavirus, with nearly 2,000 people hospitalized and 900 people in intensive care units. The state has recorded 237 deaths, according to the latest figures for the California Department of Public Health.
So far, more than 850 people who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 have been moved into isolation from the streets and shelters.
He added that the state is working with counties to set up the hotel and motel rooms as quickly as possible.
Approximately $150 million in emergency homeless aid has been made available to local governments to combat the rapidly escalating situation caused by the virus.
Additionally, California has partnered with World Central Kitchen — the organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés — to provide the homeless with three meals a day at select Project Roomkey sites, Newsom said.
The governor also announced a website for people who’d like to help their communities during the pandemic, like delivering meals to those in need, volunteering at a food bank or donating blood.
More information on volunteer and donation opportunities can be found here.