By Antonio R. Harvey | Observer Staff Writer

Homeless advocate Kevin Carter and members of Northern California’s Poor People’s Campaign, have said not enough has been done to house individuals in the Sacramento area. (Photo by Russell Stiger, Jr.)

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna received unanimous support April 19 from his Board of Supervisors colleagues to continue Project Roomkey through at least August.

The county will extend funding for 391 rooms at three motels, providing food, health services, and case management with the goal of securing each individual permanent housing.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg worked closely with Supervisor Serna to keep the motels open. 

Serna thanked the board, Interim County Chief Executive Officer Ann Edwards, Steinberg and “our community of thoughtful advocates” for helping extend the project.

“Project Roomkey not only provides much-needed shelter and services, but it also gives us the time necessary to find sustainable, longer-term opportunities to help those in need, pandemic or not.” 

Project Roomkey has shown that California is capable of getting large numbers of people off the street quickly. Some 35,000 people were brought indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic with federal funding and regulatory relief. 

“I commend Supervisor Serna for providing the direction and am grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their pledge to keep the nearly 400 motel rooms available to house our unsheltered neighbors,” said Mayor Steinberg.  “We’ve got a community crisis that requires us to add, not subtract, beds, roofs and spaces.”

Project Roomkey has directly led to 15,678 hotel and motel rooms statewide being made available for an extremely vulnerable group of Californians, mainly the unhoused community.

More than 14,200 people have been served by Project Roomkey motels since the COVID-19 epidemic emerged, according to estimates from the California Department of Social Services.

In April 2020, Governor Newsom announced a reimbursement partnership with the Federal Management Agency (FEMA), whereby local, state, and tribal governments are eligible to cost-share 75% for Project Roomkey activities, including hotel and motel rooms and wraparound supports such as meals, security, and custodial services.

In Sacramento County, Project Roomkey originally included four motels, one of which already closed. A total of 1,361 individuals have been sheltered since the program began in August 2020.

A total of 174 residents have been rehoused, and another 80 are in the process of being moved to permanent housing. But the program does have its critics, especially among the unhoused individuals it was made to serve.

Kevin Carter and Faye Kennedy, unhoused advocates and members of Northern California’s Poor People’s Campaign, have said still not enough has been done to house individuals in the Sacramento area. They also have cited issues the unhoused encounter when trying to obtain Roomkey vouchers.

“If you go by Alhambra, near W and Y streets, where a shelter was recently built, you can still see that there is no impact in housing people,” Carter said recently. “I’ve helped a few people get hotel rooms but that’s a process — a long process. Some people give up and stay in those encampments.”

A separate city motel voucher started in December has separately made 522 rooms available with 620 individuals served and 3,579 room nights provided.

Funding sources include federal, state, and county resources. Carter said the numbers are there for funding, but that the biggest problem with Roomkey is outreach.

“Why can’t city and county officials go to them and help them?” Carter said. “No, (unhoused advocates are) the people that have to do it and many people can’t get a room for the night.”