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15,000+ rooms acquired for homeless Californians, Gov. Newsom says

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced “Project Room Key,” a collaboration between the state and FEMA. A project never before seen in the United States.

“Eight weeks later here it is,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrel Steinberg, thanking state Gov. Gavin Newsom. “The (coronavirus) crisis has given us together an unprecedented opportunity to move up that timeline.”

The timeline to which Steinberg referred regards to homeless Californians. Specifically the state's plan to house them and put an end to the crisis seen all over the Golden State's major cities. Eight weeks again, Newsom talked of a plan projected over several years. 

Yet as Steinberg said, here we are -- just a few weeks into a stay-at-home order, and there are 15,000 beds at various hotels across the state for those most vulnerable to call "home" during this crisis. 

Project Room Key

Newsom announced Friday that California is the first state in the history of the nation to team up with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on a homeless housing solution. 

He made the announcement in front of a motel in Sacramento where 30 individuals formerly living on the streets or in encampments have been housed.

In the plan, titled "Project Room Key," FEMA is set to reimburse 75% of the cost of acquired rooms, as long as each person is either COVID-19 positive, exposed to the virus, or is at high risk of getting the virus (like those who are elderly or have underlying conditions). 

While each county will do the groundwork to select the people who get a room, Newsom said the state will provide "technical expertise" to make sure all requirements are met. 

Each hotel or motel acquired for the project will have essential staffing, such as laundry service, intake staff to check people in, and security. 

As of this writing, there is only one report of a homeless person dying of coronavirus. That death took place in Santa Clara County on March 16. However, crowded shelters and limited resources for homeless Californians led to a rapid response from Newsom - to prevent the spread of the virus within the homeless communities. 

So far, 15,000 units have been acquired, with just shy of 7,000 claimed and around 869 filled. 

Feeding Project Room Key

Another connection to an early news story comes into play with Chef Jose Andres and his organization World Kitchen.

Andres' name was brought up several weeks ago as the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in the Port of Oakland, carrying a vast number of people showing symptoms of COVID-19. The chef and his crew worked for weeks to provide meals to all passengers and crew as they eagerly waited to go home. 

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Once in place, Andres' World Kitchen will and several other restauranteurs will, as Gov. Newsom says, "meet the moment," by providing three meals each day for all people living at the sites across the state. 

After COVID-19

At his press conference Friday, many asked Newsom what the long-term solution for homelessness in the state would be. He replied that each lease involved in Project Room Key has a continue and an option to buy written into it. Once the nation has gotten through the pandemic, Newsom said the state will consider both options for each site. 

It's a vision he and Mayor Steinberg share. In a FaceTime interview with Mayor Steinberg prior to this conference, he expressed his hopes for the "silver lining" of the COVID-19 pandemic be helping permanently house the homeless in Sacramento.

"It's an opportunity to bring thousands of people indoors," Steinberg said. "I just want to make that the floor and not the ceiling."

Highlights from April 3 press conference: 

  • Sleep Train Arena: Newsom announced that construction begins April 3 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Crews will begin modifying the venue so that it is ready to become a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients should the region's hospitals become overwhelmed. 
  • FEMA trailers in California: So far there are more than 1300 trailers in the state from FEMA. 1305 were originally brought in, with an additional 28 acquired on Friday, April 3. So far 584 have been distributed. 
  • Monday, April 6: He also said the state continues to procure space for temporary hospitals and he is set to discuss those in his update on Monday, April 6. 
  • Health Corps California: More than 74,000 people have signed up for Health Corps California -- a program Newsom announced just days ago. Learn more about how you can help, here. 
  • How you can help: If you're looking to, know that there are so many options for you. Visit serve.ca.gov to learn more about how you can meet the moment.  

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