California Awards First Grants in $600 Million Plan to Shelter Homeless

Screenshot of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s virtual press conference Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in which he announced the state has awarded the first grants in a $600 million bid to shelter homeless people.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — As California battles dozens of large wildfires and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday the state is maintaining its focus on eradicating homelessness by distributing the first community grants under its $600 million program to convert motels, hotels and vacant apartment buildings into long-term housing for homeless people.

As part of efforts to curb Covid-19 infections among the homeless, Newsom this year launched Project Roomkey, a program that uses state funds to place homeless people, or people at risk of becoming homeless, into hotel and motel rooms.

As of June, the program had temporarily housed 14,200 homeless people across the state in just a few months. According to state data, the program had also secured 1,300 trailers and enough hotel and motel rooms for nearly 15,700 people, according to state data.

In July, Newsom moved to make housing conditions more permanent for homeless people and those in precarious housing conditions with the launch of Project Homekey, a program backed by $600 million in funding from the state budget. 

Through Homekey, jurisdictions can apply for state funding for projects that acquire and rehabilitate structures for conversion into homes for homeless people. 

On Wednesday, seven California jurisdictions received $76.5 million in first-round funding for 10 Homekey projects that will create 579 housing units for homeless people.

One of the largest awards went to the city of San Jose which will use $14.5 million to convert a 76-unit property currently operating under Project Roomkey into a permanent housing project.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement the infusion of Homekey funding will expand the city’s efforts to house homeless people.

“In 2016, we launched an effort to rehabilitate deteriorating motels to get more of our homeless residents off the street,” Liccardo said. “Now, with Homekey and the governor’s leadership, we’re able to move 77 more homeless individuals off the street, into a motel that we’re purchasing with the Homekey money.”

Kern and Contra Costa counties will use $15 million and $21.5 million, respectively, in Homekey funding to acquire a 174-unit Motel 6 and four structures totaling 151 units for permanent housing.

Contra Costa County Health Director Anna Roth and County Director of Health Housing and Homeless Services Lavonna Martin said in a joint statement the Homekey funds are vital to efforts to end homelessness.

“On any given night, more than 500 of our residents live outdoors in East Contra Costa, but until now we had only 20 shelter beds in that part of the county,” Roth and Martin said. “This investment from Homekey will touch hundreds of lives and improve health in Contra Costa County.”

In Mendocino County, which currently has no permanent homeless shelter, officials will use $9.6 million to create 56 housing units with plans to eventually convert half to permanent housing.

In Southern California, the city of El Centro will use $3 million to build 13 tiny home duplexes to house 26 homeless students who identify as former foster youth. And Lake Elsinore officials will use $3 million to acquire and operate a former hotel that will offer 14 housing units for up to 28 residents within 90 days.

Newsom said in a statement the program is a unique model in the nation. 

“We are realizing our dream of helping local jurisdictions acquire thousands of motel rooms and convert them into housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” Newsom said. “Homekey is the first effort of its kind in the nation and is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect the most vulnerable people in our state.”

Federal Coronavirus Aid Relief funds make up the bulk of Homekey funds while the state provides $50 million to supplement property acquisition and provide initial operating funds for communities. 

The California Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers Homekey, began accepting applications on July 22 and has so far received 138 applications from 67 jurisdictions statewide, with a total of nearly $1.06 billion requested.

The first seven recipients of Homekey funding must complete their purchases by Dec. 30, according to state guidelines.

The tight deadline will also help keep costs down and highlight the urgency of placing homeless people into housing during a deadly pandemic and year with record heat waves, officials said. 

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