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Check out time for the homeless

Cities might end pandemic programs that used hotels for housing

A homeless man gets his temperature checked at the entrance of a hotel in Los Angeles in April. Associated Press/Photo by Damian Dovarganes (file)

Check out time for the homeless

With government funding set to expire at the end of the month, states and cities face tough choices about whether to continue covering the costs of hotel rooms for homeless people.

Congress’ spring pandemic relief bill gave states money to shelter the homeless. Many states used the funds to rent hotels where homeless people could quarantine, recover, or shelter in place. But those programs have not all worked as intended, and the federal funding is set to expire at the end of the month.

As the pandemic spread, hotels offered the convenience of ready-made housing with individual rooms that allowed residents to stay separate. But they came with a high price: One San Francisco official estimated the rooms cost $260 a night, when alternatives such as homeless shelters could have been $70-$90.

California’s “Project Roomkey” sheltered thousands of people but did not succeed in transitioning many of them to permanent housing. Los Angeles’ Homeless Services Authority said nearly 600 people moved from hotels to other temporary housing and just 62 went to permanent housing. About 3,400 participants remain in hotels in the city. Other states have dealt with neighbors’ quality of life complaints and homeless residents refusing to leave the hotels when evicted.

Congress is working on a new pandemic relief bill, but continued federal funding remains uncertain. In response, some cities are moving the homeless out of hotels into cheaper alternatives. Last month, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a plan to start transitioning the homeless out of the 29 hotels used during the pandemic. The city will empty the first seven by Dec. 21 and the rest by June.

“These are extremely expensive compared to other solutions,” Abigail Stewart-Kahn, the interim director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told KQED-FM. “They were always intended to be temporary.”

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty-fighting and criminal justice. She resides with her family in Atlanta.



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