Califorina secures nearly 7,000 hotel rooms for homeless during coronavirus pandemic

Tribune Content Agency

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Caifornia has secured nearly 7,000 hotel and motel rooms to house the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.

The governor hopes to bring that number to 15,000 in the near future, he said during a media briefing in Sacramento. And FEMA will reimburse 75% of the cost of the hotel program, which is intended to house homeless residents who are infected or are medically vulnerable.

“This has been a point of real concern for all of us for a number of months,” Newsom said. “A top priority since the COVID crisis began to manifest.”

Newsom’s announcements Friday come a day after San Francisco reported what appears to be the city’s first case of a coronavirus infection in a homeless shelter. The resident, who had been living at Division Circle Navigation Center, has been moved into an isolation room in a hotel, and city staffers are screening other shelter residents for symptoms. The death of a homeless Santa Clara County resident due to COVID-19 was reported last month, but county officials have released few details on the case.

Experts worry coronavirus could sweep through unsanitary homeless encampments or crowded shelters and sicken medically vulnerable residents, prompting Newsom last month to give $150 million for the problem. He promised to send $100 million to local governments for homeless shelter support and emergency housing, and use another $50 million to buy trailers and lease hotel rooms that will be used to isolate homeless residents.

Bay Area officials are scrambling to open those hotel rooms and trailers, as well as convert buildings into new homeless shelters, either using state resources or spending their own funds and hoping the state will pay them back later.

The state bought 1,309 trailers from FEMA and private vendors, and already has sent hundreds to the Bay Area. Oakland’s 91 allotted trailers began arriving this week.

Forty-five of those will stay in Oakland on a vacant, city-owned lot next to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, while the rest will go to other jurisdictions within Alameda County, including Berkeley. Oakland still has 15 trailers — which were sent by the state two months ago to house the homeless — sitting empty in storage.

Santa Clara County had 15 trailers allocated by the state before the pandemic. When the virus hit, county officials intended to set them up at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds — but they ran into a snag when they realized the water and power hookups at the fairgrounds don’t work.

San Jose received 109 trailers two weeks ago, but staff are working on refurbishing the dwellings and have yet to move anyone in.

Officials also have leased hundreds of hotel rooms across the Bay Area, and slowly have begun moving in homeless residents. San Francisco had leased 479 rooms as of Wednesday, and moved in 123 people — 95% of whom were homeless. The city hoped to secure 2,555 rooms by the end of the week

To reduce capacity at crowded existing shelters and allow space for residents to practice social distancing, officials also are opening new shelters. San Jose opened Parkside Hall at the Convention Center this week, to house 75 homeless adults who don’t have COVID-19.

The city hopes to open South Hall next. And San Francisco planned to open Moscone West to 394 homeless residents this week. The city also hoped to open two additional shelter sites — with a planned capacity of up to 510 beds — by next week.


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