July-August 2020 Newsletter

Project Roomkey Hotel Room
Project Roomkey

BYLINE: Pam McGranahan, Chair, Communications Committee

Amid state and local focus on developing, building, and finding housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, along came COVID-19. Los Angeles officials reacted initially by setting up shelters in neighborhood recreation centers. However, as the pandemic spread, concerns about group-living environments arose. Enter Project Roomkey (PRK), a state project to provide 15,000 rooms in hotels and motels for vulnerable homeless individuals. Due to the absence of tourists and travelers, over 70% of the state’s hotel rooms became vacant. State officials saw a win-win opportunity: pay the hotel and motel owners rent and provide rooms for vulnerable homeless individuals. FEMA approved a 75 percent federal cost-share for each housed homeless person who was vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or underlying conditions. Every PRK hotel and motel include essential wraparound services, such as custodial, laundry, security and support staff as well as meals.

In Los Angeles, the state and the county have partnered with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to implement PRK. LAHSA signs an occupancy agreement with each hotel and motel for a three-month period, with options to extend during the pandemic. LAHSA engages providers, such as The People Concern, to manage and provide services to the hotels.

Clients are referred to the program by a homeless services provider or by law enforcement. The PRK sites are staffed to ensure that program rules are followed, to provide daily health and wellness checks, to deliver food to the rooms, and to respond to needs. Each client can leave for essential services, and, at some sites, for exercise. Although as city and county recommendations have changed, so have some rules for clients. Most sites have a 7:00 pm curfew. On-site service providers work with each client to develop an exit path, with a goal of moving them to a permanent place. Oftentimes, this will move clients faster through the pipeline to permanent supportive housing.

In the LA region, as of June 30, LAHSA reports that 4,635 clients have been served. How has this program affected our local homeless individuals? According to Glanda Sherman, The People Concern outreach team member, four individuals from Pacific Palisades are now happily housed in a PRK room. One client told her that he has benefitted from staying in the hotel, as he has been able to get more sleep and feels less anxious. While three of Glanda’s clients declined to enter the program after they were matched because they objected to the curfew, this client says the curfew and the restrictions do not bother him. Another of Glanda’s clients, housed in an interesting art deco hotel in Venice, reports that she “loves” it. “The place is excellent, people there are super nice, they take your temperature three times a day, and the food choices are excellent.” Glanda adds that this client has chosen to eat only two meals a day to avoid gaining weight. Additionally, doctors from the Venice Family Clinic are on site once a week.

PRK, an ambitious temporary program, is apparently working as planned. The challenge of providing enough staff to operate and manage the leased hotels is being met. Due to Measure H passing, LAHSA staff explained that the homeless services system grew which allowed it to sustain such a large undertaking as PRK.

The next challenge is coming, as staff begin to pivot to planning for exit strategies for all PRK clients. Housing in LA is in short supply and cannot meet the current need. Stay tuned for the next steps, which clearly have to be multi-pronged!

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