By Carter Petro

As the Coronavirus epidemic continues to plague the nation, some states are looking for new and creative ways to counter the disease.  One such state is California, which recently announced the “Project Roomkey” initiative, designed to place the homeless residents of California into hotel rooms for the time being.  Officials in the state have reported that their homeless population is incredibly vulnerable to Covid-19, and don’t have the same opportunities to self-isolate as the rest of the general population.

In partnership with FEMA, the state and local governments in California will be ensured reimbursement for providing housing, meals, and other essential services (like health services and security) from hotel and motel rooms for the next 3 months to the states homeless population.  California counties have already identified 6700 available rooms for the project, with their sights set on 15,000 as a total initiative goal.  One problem that has arisen is that, while this number may seem high, the homeless population of California is nearly 10x larger than that, at nearly 150,000.  The governor has admitted that 15,000 rooms isn’t close to enough, and his initial goal had been 50,000 rooms.  And its not just the number of rooms, it’s the length of time its taking to house people.  The virus is spreading fast, and despite this, it still takes weeks to begin housing once a lease is secured for the initiative.  Similarly, higher ups in the initiative have said that they’ve had issues over staffing shortages already and are concerned for the longevity of the program with limited resources and manpower.

One other large concern that has been brought up by critics of the initiative is the failings of a similar initiative in Canada.  In Calgary, a city in the Western Canadian province of Alberta, the government has already scrapped their version of the “Project Roomkey” initiative, stepping back after weeks of work developing the project.  While the mayor felt that the plan was the right way to go, he couldn’t deny the extensive costs this would be causing, as well as the increased liability that came with housing and caring for entire homeless populations.  The province has since switched to a mass convention center to use as housing, with strict rules on no more than 15 people to an indoor space within the facility.

With Calgary having abandoned their project within 2 weeks, critics can’t imagine the Californian attempt lasting much longer.  The initiative couldn’t get off the ground with a homeless population of 1900, and as I stated before, the homeless population of California is nearly 150,000.  Coronavirus testing is still difficult to access for many, and with 14,000 confirmed cases in the Golden State, the unconfirmed number must be assumed to be much higher, especially within the homeless population.  Its vital that local and state governments do their best to stem the spread of the virus within these communities that are at a higher risk.  But is the “Project Roomkey” initiative the best solution, or are the concerns raised over the idea well founded.