Gov. Newsom stops in Silicon Valley to announce motel rooms for homeless
California Gov. Gavin Newsom stopped in Santa Clara County to announce nearly 11,000 hotel rooms have been secured for homeless residents. Photo courtesy of Supervisor Susan Ellenberg's office.

Standing in front of Motel 6 in Campbell, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday announced an agreement with the chain to house the homeless during the coronavirus outbreak, and possibly beyond.

This deal is part of Project Roomkey, an initiative Newsom announced two weeks ago, which seeks to identify 15,000 hotel rooms throughout the state for homeless individuals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay 75 percent of these housing costs.

Priority will be given to those individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, live in congregate settings with exposure to the virus, are elderly or have medical conditions.

Sheltering the most vulnerable residents is another attempt by the governor to flatten the curve of the coronavirus.

“This state had a crisis on the issue of homelessness before the crisis of COVID-19,” Newsom said. “This crisis…exacerbates the other.”

Newsom said that homeless residents are not just on the streets and sidewalks, but “in congregate shelters stuck up against each other, cots, mats, rooms large and small.”

As of Saturday, 10,974 hotel rooms had been procured statewide and Motel 6 has agreed to provide 5,025 additional rooms. Newsom said that 4,211 individuals across the state have moved off the streets and out of impacted shelters into the hotel rooms.

Food programs, delivery services and social services will support those housed inside the motel rooms. Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, in partnership with local restaurants, is providing three hot, nutritious meals daily.

There are about 108,000 unsheltered Californians, more homeless individuals than any other state in the country.

“People are struggling to find housing,” Newsom said, “families who have been torn apart because of economic conditions or tragedies that have occurred in their lives.”

Newsom is in talks with California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins about getting government funding to make these sites permanent housing for homeless individuals through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act 2.0.

On March 27, President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law, providing $2 trillion in loans and other economic assistance to businesses and healthcare providers.

As someone “who cares deeply about the issue of homelessness,” the governor said he appreciated partnerships with counties including Santa Clara, Yolo, Merced, Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura.

“It shows what we’re capable of doing when everyone rolls up their sleeves… stops playing politics and starts rowing in the same direction,” Newsom said.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that Project Roomkey and the reimbursement from FEMA are critical in the fight against homelessness and the funding needed to serve the community. He wants to see the CARES Act 2.0 move forward in Congress to help fund the purchase of hotels and emergency housing.

Liccardo said this is an opportunity for Congress to build on Newsom’s vision. The mayor wants Congress to help cities and counties fund the purchase of motel rooms to aggressively address the homelessness crisis “that will be here well beyond the time that this pandemic passes.”

In addition to purchasing motels, Liccardo said the city must continue to build emergency housing.

“We can really build on this with a real partnership with the federal government,” he said, “and I hope we’ll be able to see a new CARES package get over the goal line so we can all make real progress together.”

Along with Liccardo, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez, Supervisor Susan Ellenberg and Campbell Mayor Susan M. Landry joined Newsom at the news conference.

“Only through collaboration will we be able to get through this health crisis, so I am glad to host Gov. Newsom in my district today to announce this partnership with Motel 6 and the state of California to benefit us all and house our most vulnerable members of our communities, Ellenberg said in a statement. “The governor’s Project Roomkey is a prime example of how state and local governments can work in lockstep to better leverage resources to benefit all of our residents.”

Chavez said the initiative allows the county to meet the needs of a community during COVID-19 and to “work with our cities to think differently about how we address homelessness.”

However, some cities are fighting against these efforts, Newsom said. He did not name those cities.

“The most vulnerable Californians on our streets, seniors that are just desperate for a key, a lock, a place of their own…their lives are on the line,” Newsom said. “I want to encourage those cities that are blocking efforts like this to consider themselves in the context of others, their actions in the context of their community, their actions in the annals of history…all of us will be judged.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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