File photo.

The City of Santa Monica in collaboration with the People Concern has housed 26 homeless individuals who are high risk for COVID in a locally owned Santa Monica motel. The initiative, which began on May 29 and will continue through September, was pulled together when the County was unable to identify any hotels in Santa Monica to participate in official Project Roomkey efforts.

“We were a little disappointed when the County was not able to secure a site in Santa Monica, but knew that we had quite a few COVID high risk extremely vulnerable people experiencing homelessness on our streets,” said Brain Hardgrave, Senior Administrative Analyst in the Human Services Division of City Government. In response, the City partnered with The People Concern, which runs three interim housing facilities, the Santa Monica Access Center, and a street intervention team in Santa Monica, to find a motel that would be willing to help out.

Project Roomkey is an effort by the State, County and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to house vulnerable homeless people in hotel and motel rooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As of Aug 11, L.A. County reported that Project Roomkey was housing 4,112 individuals.

So far, the City and The People Concern have housed 26 people in a Santa Monica motel, whose identity is being protected for privacy reasons. These people are provided a range of supportive and rehabilitative services by The People Concern to help them transition into permanent housing.

“The only solution to homelessness is housing. We have to provide housing and once people are housed then you need to wrap around the services for them to remain housed,” said John Maceri, the CEO of The People Concern.

Twenty six rooms were secured for an initial 30 day period at the end of May and the project is currently maintaining 10 rooms through September. According to the City, out of the 12 people who exited the first phase of the program four were successfully permanently housed with family/friends, five transitioned into other motel placements including Project Roomkey sites, one entered residential substance use disorder treatment and two exited back to the streets.

Individuals for this project were identified by The People Concern’s Multidisciplinary Street Team, which is a mobile outreach team that identifies homeless individuals in Santa Monica and provides a wide range of services including psychotherapy, medical services, housing coordination, and case management. The team selected individuals who were at the highest risk of suffering severe health consequences from coronavirus.

“The CDC and L.A. County Department of Public Health are in agreement of who are amongst some of the most vulnerable COVID high risk population and that includes people who are either 65 and above and/or people with one or more serious underlying chronic health conditions, such that if they were to contract COVID-19 these are the folks who are most likely to suffer extreme illness, require hospitalization and intensive care,” said Hardgrave.

Funding for this informal version of Project Roomkey initially came from the Cedar Sinai California Community Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation. According to Hardgrave, when this ran out around July 1 a second round of funding came from the L.A. County Homeless Initiative.

This project is in direct response to the growing need for homeless services during the pandemic, which has caused some people to lose their homes due to financial circumstances and isolation from their network of friends and families.

“I think there’s a misconception that all people experiencing homelessness are mentally ill, or have substance abuse issues, or are out there by choice and we know that’s not true,” said Hardgrave. “For example, one participant in the motel shelter project is a 40-year-old woman, who has a severe health condition and became homeless after she was furloughed from her job earlier this year. While she was staying in the motel she started saving up her unemployment benefits and The People Concern was able to link her to a county funded rapid rehousing program.”

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