Updated April 21
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday directed staff to keep open the county’s three Project Roomkey motels through at least August, providing a respite for the nearly 500 formerly homeless residents who live at the temporary shelters.
The decision reverses plans by county officials to close the motels this spring due to cost concerns. Roomkey is a partially state-funded program that has sheltered thousands of homeless Californians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the meeting, Supervisor Phil Serna led the effort to keep the motels open through August and urged his fellow supervisors to reverse the plans.
“The last thing any of us want to do is ramp down a fairly successful program,” Serna said. “I think it would be a tragedy if they left Roomkey and went back to living on the streets.”
Supervisors Rich Desmond and Patrick Kennedy agreed, with Desmond calling it the “humane” and “compassionate” thing to do.
Board Chairwoman Sue Frost said she generally supported the program. Matt Hedges, Frost’s chief-of-staff, clarified on Wednesday that Frost supports Serna’s plan to keep the motels open through August. Supervisor Don Nottolli said he wasn’t sure whether the county had enough money for the program.
Last week, several advocates for unhoused people criticized the county’s plans and urged officials to keep the motels open. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg also said the closure plans were premature.
On Tuesday, Steinberg commended the action by the county supervisors.
“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,” Steiberg added in a written statement.
As of April 10, 468 previously homeless people remained in motel rooms in the county. Officials said 174 Roomkey participants had been rehoused, while 80 more are expected to receive housing soon.
Late last week, Julie Field, the county’s homeless services program manager, said officials never expected Roomkey would be permanent and noted there are less expensive options for sheltering people. She cited motel vouchers as one option, though those don’t include wrap-around services.
Field said Roomkey motel rooms cost $4,000 per month, including security, food and other services, she said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in December that the federal government had authorized reimbursements for the program throughout the pandemic.
But Field said the county initially received reimbursements for only 43% of its Roomkey costs, despite expecting a much higher percentage.
“We didn’t come to this decision lightly or without due diligence,” Ethan Dye, acting director of the county’s department of human assistance, told supervisors of the initial closure plans.
Following Tuesday’s direction from Serna, Desmond and Kennedy, county officials said they’ll look for additional resources to keep the motels open through August.
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