Sacramento County to close motels used as homeless shelters

Sacramento County plans to close three motels used to shelter homeless people this spring when federal funding for the service ends.

The three motels have been housing homeless people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration released funding for a program he called Project Roomkey. The sites currently house 333 people.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency resumed funding for the program in December 2020, and Newsom did not provide more money for the Roomkey project in the state budget.

FEMA funding for the program is scheduled to end on March 30, Ethan Dye, county director of social services, told the oversight board on Wednesday.

Supervisors had occasion to order staff to keep hotels open, although they had to find money to keep paying for the program. The program costs about $1.6 million a month, covering leases, meals, relocation and health care services, Dye said.

Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said the county, which has a budget of more than $6 billion, should have found the money, especially with the number of coronavirus cases. always high.

“It is unacceptable that the supervisory board is making people who were housed homeless again,” Erlenbusch said.

The motels were intended for short-term quarantine, but are becoming de facto apartments for some. A quarter of Roomkey customers have been there for more than a year, Dye said.

More than 2,500 people have spent time at the motels since they opened in spring 2020, Dye said. Authorities have placed 425 of them in permanent housing and more than 300 in temporary housing, Dye said.

The deal didn’t work out for everyone. More than 250 people were kicked out of motels in the first year they opened over reported violations of program rules, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Staff will work with remaining guests to try to get them into accommodation and other hotels, Dye said.

“I want to make it very clear that we’re not looking to put people en masse on the streets just to shut down motels,” Dye told supervisors. “We’re going to try to make sure we do it right, methodically and do it thoughtfully.”

The La Quinta in the River District is scheduled to close first on March 15, followed by the Vagabond Inn downtown on April 15, then the Comfort Inn in Rancho Cordova on May 30, according to the staff report.

Instead of Roomkey, the state budget funds the Homekey project, which converts hotels into permanent housing for the homeless.

Last year, the city opened apartments under the Homekey project in South Sacramento’s Parkway neighborhood with about 110 units, but it’s essentially sold out. The state has approved funding for two new Homekey hotels in the city, but they are yet to open. A Homekey motel in Natomas for homeless families is slated to open in April, followed by another downtown in the fall.

Outside of Roomkey, the city has six hotels where it houses homeless people, but like all shelters in the county, all are usually full on any given night.

This story was originally published February 9, 2022 5:50 p.m.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she covered local government in newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.