California Turns to Hotels to House Homeless Population

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new statewide program that would move homeless residents into hotel rooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the April 3 announcement, the state set a goal of securing 15,000 hotel rooms for homeless residents—specifically those who test positive for COVID-19 and don’t require hospitalization, those who have been exposed and need to be isolated. 

Only a third of those rooms are currently filled, meaning about 3 percent of the state’s homeless residents have been moved into hotels. The governor and many mayors of California possess extraordinary powers at the moment to seize private property for public use. Using this emergency authority to commandeer hotels could house people more quickly—and in much greater numbers—offering safer, faster protection for the state’s most at-risk residents.

The hotel staff takes care of housekeeping, the local nonprofit Everytable delivers three meals a day and a team of nurses and social workers coordinated by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) stop by for health and wellness checks.

“There is nearly universal agreement that unhoused residents are extremely vulnerable right now, both in terms of risk of contracting COVID-19 and of having negative outcomes from the disease if they do contract it. Under the circumstances, commandeering property to bring unhoused people inside and de-densify shelters is no more extreme than issuing shelter-in-place orders and effectively shutting down most of the state to slow the spread of the disease,” says Shayla Myers, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

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