He focused nearly all of his annual State of the State address on the issue, and during a press conference on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called it “the crisis that predated the current crisis”:
But Newsom made the case that California is taking unprecedented action to bring unsheltered residents off the streets and protect homeless communities from dire COVID-19 outbreaks.
The press conference, for instance, was held outside a Sacramento-area motel, which the state had secured and leased 34 rooms for homeless individuals.
Statewide, this “Project Room Key” effort is targeting 15,000 hotel and motel units for unsheltered people. So far, 869 people are already in the rooms, including 30 at the Sacramento motel.
“This has been a point of real concern for all of us, a top priority since the COVID crisis began to manifest,” the governor said.
California has focused on homeless communities during the coronavirus crisis so as to avoid stressing hospitals with a surge of unsheltered patients due to outbreaks on the streets.
One homeless person in Santa Clara County recently died of COVID-19. More than a dozen have tested positive for the virus.
On Friday, Newsom announced an updated number of COVID-19 patients in California, 10,710, but acknowledged a backlog of unprocessed tests and a wait of up to a week in some cases for results.
The governor said that, as of Friday, 2,188 people were hospitalized in the state, and 901 people were being treated in intensive care units, a 10.4% increase over Thursday.
He said the state is anticipating a peak of COVID-19 patients weeks away.
“We were looking into the May month, that we would start seeing things peak,” Newsom said, adding that the model is constantly being updated.
The federal government says it will reimburse California for up to 75% of the cost of moving unsheltered people into the hotel and motel rooms, so long as the state prioritizes curbing the spread of the coronavirus among homeless communities.
Newsom called this partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency a “first in the nation” collaboration.
The governor said there are other buckets of state money, including funding from the recently passed federal CARES Act, to backfill the remaining 25% of the costs.
At the hotels and motels, the state is providing everything from intake services, to identify possible COVID-19 patients, in addition to doing laundry and serving three meals a day, via chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, which helped serve food to passengers exiting the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Oakland last month.
Some homeless advocates have accused the state and local governments of not moving fast enough to get homeless residents off the streets and into emergency housing as the coronavirus spread in communities.
“They’re right, and we recognize good enough never is,” Newsom said. But he noted that no other state in the nation has procured approximately 7,000 rooms for unsheltered people in a matter of weeks, in addition to the reimbursement arrangement with FEMA.
The governor confirmed on Friday that the state is eyeing making the leased hotel and motel rooms permanent housing options for homeless residents, as CapRadio reported last week.
At hospitals, the state has provided some 38 million N95 masks to health care workers, but Newsom said it needs hundreds of millions more pieces of personal protective equipment.
And 74,000 former or aspiring health care workers have signed up to help at California hospitals via a state program launched earlier this week.
California acquired a “few hundred more” ventilators from Los Angeles County, which are being refurbished in the Silicon Valley.
The governor noted that the Trump administration has yet to allocate any ventilators directly to the state.
“And I don’t anticipate any time soon” receiving ventilators, Newsom said.
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