(CN) — California announced an additional $147 million earmarked for homeless housing projects across the state on Friday, the latest in a rapid-fire effort to house people living on the street during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This past April, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the rollout of Project Roomkey, a program that acquired 15,000 hotel rooms across the state to house homeless people during the health emergency. That program met pushback from some communities across the state and by September the program began to ramp down.
The focus has shifted to converting motels, hotels and vacant apartment buildings into housing for the homeless under Project Homekey, a nearly $600 million program that will give jurisdictions the ability to fund rehabilitation projects in their local communities. The $147 million announced Friday will go to 12 cities and counties and will fund a little over 1,100 units across the state.
“What we are doing differently — and fundamentally so — we are moving now with a real sense of urgency and deliberative speeds that we have not processed in the past,” Newsom said during a Friday press conference.
The Democratic governor was joined on the call by Linda Richter, a Los Angeles resident who previously lived in her car and received an apartment through Project Roomkey.
On the week of her 70th birthday, Richter said she moved into a motel after being homeless for 16 years and alone for 11 years.
Richter said she looks out her window from her apartment and sees her car parked outside and wonders how she lived that way.
“I call it an existence. It wasn’t living, it was terrifying. I never thought I was going to be able to survive,” said Richter.
Also on the call, LA resident Robbie Davenport said she lived in a tent with her cats after fleeing an abusive relationship.
“It really made me feel that I was not a part of society,” said Davenport, who is now staying in an apartment where she feels much safer amid the Covid-19 pandemic. She credits the program with reacclimating her to the rest of society.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said the pandemic “put light on the disparities” when it comes to homelessness. Across California, over 151,000 people are homeless according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 41,000 of them live in the city of LA, which saw a 16% increase from last year’s official count.
Under the latest round of Homekey funding LA will receive nearly $40 million for six projects amounting to a little over 240 units. That includes five motels and a property that can house more than 40 units, all of which will be used as interim housing before they’re converted into permanent housing.
“This is not about numbers, this isn’t about rooms, this isn’t about statistics, this is about the stories. This is about the flesh and blood of the people who we hold,” Garcetti said.
The mayor added that when it comes to homelessness in LA, all elected officials are “marching together in an unprecedented way.”
But this week, a federal judge in LA didn’t see the issue in exactly the same light.
A federal lawsuit filed against the city and county of LA over their handling of the homeless crisis is playing out before U.S. District Judge David Carter with assistance from U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. They are coordinating with multiple government agencies and asking how the city and county can best respond to the homeless crisis during and after the pandemic.
The unprecedented case has yielded some large-scale promises from both the city and county, including an agreement to create 6,000 new homeless shelter beds in the next year. The agreement was announced in June during a court hearing before Carter, but progress has stalled.
In a mediation order issued this week, Birotte said the court “is extremely disappointed and dismayed that in the nearly four months since the parties reached a ‘historic agreement to provide 6,700 beds and shelter opportunities, with services, for people experiencing homelessness,’ the parties continue to bicker, waste time and not finalize a memorandum of understanding.”
Birotte said city and county officials seem to be unwilling to work together.
“If the parties are unable to reach agreement on this preliminary aspect of this litigation, it does not bode well for the nearly 60,000 people experiencing homeless in the city and the county of Los Angeles,” Birotte wrote.