Los Angeles ends program to house homeless in hotels

September 24, 2020

One hotel emptied its rooms in late August. Another did so last week. A third is winding down this week.

It’s the beginning of the end for L.A. County’s Project Roomkey, the $100-million-plus program to repurpose hotels and motels emptied by the coronavirus as safe havens for homeless people.

After peaking at just over 4,300 guests — about 30% of its ambitious goal — the project will shed several hundred beds monthly until it closes down early next year, said Heidi Marston, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

The program is being squeezed by uncertain funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which pays about 75% of its cost, raising the possibility of a sudden cutoff that would force the county to abruptly shut down hotels, Marston said in an interview.

Marston said LAHSA intends to transition the 4,000 people still living in hotels into other housing so they will not be forced to return to the street.

“Our first priority is those who are in the hotels,” Marston said. “We don’t want them exiting back to the street.”

The program, part of a statewide effort launched by Gov. Gavin Newsom, began in March with a goal of providing temporary housing for all of the 15,000 people in LAHSA’s records who were 65 or older or had chronic health conditions such as heart or respiratory illness — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s benchmarks for those most vulnerable to hospitalization or death from COVID- 19.

Its legacy will be mixed. By moving thousands of people off the street in record time, it was a stunning demonstration of what can be done, officials say. In some ways the county’s performance outshone the state’s, quickly filling more than 90% of available rooms while statewide occupancy was slow reaching 50%.

But it also highlighted limitations of both funding and human capital to solve the county’s homeless crisis.

Read more.