Officials Urge Bay Area Hotels to Remain Open Amid COVID-19 Spike

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PLEASANTON, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Heather Chavez, one of the homeless guests who has been sheltering at a hotel, stands next to her recreational vehicle with her dog Chico in the hotel's parking lot in Pleasanton, Calif., on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Chavez, along with the other homeless staying at the hotel under Project Roomkey, received a letter saying they would have to leave in December. In April, Gov. Gavin Newsom launched Project Roomkey, a first-of-its-kind program that moved unhoused residents into hotels to protect them from COVID-19. Like the other homeless, Chavez hasn't been given any information on when she will be asked to leave or where she will go. If no other housing is available, she is thankful she has the RV as an option. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

The Bay Area Opts Hotels to Resume Operations for the Homeless

This week, several Bay Area officials urge the state’s pandemic hotels to remain open due to the recent alarming rise of coronavirus infections. The decision came out of fear that closing accommodations across the region would leave thousands of sheltered homeless wandering around the streets – leading to possible consequences of worsening the Bay Area’s number of COVID-19 cases.

One of the hotels initially set to move people out and shut down its doors are inns owned by Project Roomkey. The establishment houses homeless residents, sheltering them from the threat of the coronavirus outbreak, and has been doing so for the past few months. With the breaking news of the surging number of Californians getting hospitalized with the infection and the likelihood of another state-wide lockdown looming over, country officials take their time to reconsider to push their plans of closing accommodations around the region. 

Several counties have also expressed their thoughts with regards to the current issue. Recently, Santa Clara County administrators reviewed their plans and timelines due to the latest surge occurring around the country. In San Francisco, hotels that get scheduled to close this month have obtained permission to resume operations for another period of 30 days. Meanwhile, the Alameda County’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination intends to give its four hotels and extended lease to remain open for sheltering homeless people from the coronavirus.

According to Abode Services chief operating officer Vivian Wan, sustaining all of the hotels within the country would deem impossible despite efforts put by counties to help them stay open amid the pandemic. Wan’s statement reflects that of the Bay Area’s current financial situation. Federal funding that supported the housing program would reach its expiry by the end of December, and FEMA reimbursements might also see its conclusion. The previously mentioned financial sources would leave local officials at a loss on how to maintain hotel operations around the region continuously without additional funds. Wan also affirmed that the county officials strive their best to keep the lodges open as long as they can despite the challenges.

Funds for the hotels are not the only issue that region administrators mull over. Additionally, care providers are against ushering homeless people back on the streets due to fear of sudden mass coronavirus outbreaks occurring if they did so. The original plan for shutting down the hotels is to place the homeless into permanent housing initiatives. However, only a portion of hotel guests got transferred to permanent residences as of the latest transfer updates.

Project Roomkey and San Francisco’s Proposal to Extend the City’s Hotel Accommodations

This month, officials in San Francisco planned to move more than 500 people out of Project Roomkey and transfer them into more permanent housing arrangements and close all the municipality’s hotels by June next year. However, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing announced that hotel guests would get another month to stay at the building. That got heavily influenced by criticisms attacking the project’s rushed timeline and the state giving San Francisco an additional $10 million to keep the program up and running.

For several officials, however, those choices were not enough to extend the project longer. On Tuesday, at least four of San Francisco’s superintendents proposed a ruling that could help halt the hotel shutdowns within the city. According to the proposed measure, it would force San Francisco to keep its 2,300 hotel rooms open for the homeless until FEMA halts to fund the project or all the hotel guests get rehoused in permanent homes.

In response to the previously mentioned proposal, Supervisor Matt Haney also expressed her support for it. Haney pointed out how impactful Project Roomkey was when it got approved and executed across the municipality. According to her, the plan is one of the most cost-effective and necessary solutions that San Francisco ever had during the pandemic. It has brought thousands of homeless people away from the streets. Haney voiced that shutting the initiative down while no long-term progression for placing homeless people in stable housing has occurred would put all of their efforts into naught.