Changing Lives in Our Community for the Better – Project Homekey
We hear and see it daily: California’s homelessness crisis has reached astounding levels and numbers. It is the product of numerous factors: a lack of housing, the state’s high cost of living, mental illness, and drug use. Many of those that are struggling with homelessness are medically vulnerable and living on the streets, in their automobiles, or in shelters. There are families and individuals staying in motels across California because they cannot pass a credit check to lease an apartment. As a result, they end up paying more to reside in a small motel. The twin emergencies of the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires in our communities have further exacerbated California’s homelessness crisis. No matter how dire their shelter situation has become, or how they have found a way to get through day-to-day, many are still unfortunately left without a foothold by which to boost themselves up. It takes large, collaborative, societal efforts to combat homelessness.
Many of the health problems among people experiencing homelessness result from barriers to health care, food insecurity, and limited access to resources and social services. Wounds become infected without clean water, viruses and illnesses spread without regulated temperatures and shelter. Transitional and supportive housing represent a long-sought hope for many individuals and families. Projects within this realm often take numerous like-minded partners, and involve governments, non-profit organizations, and private businesses working together to both build and sustain a small ecosystem devoted to a high-needs population. They involve stakeholders and entities looking beyond themselves and collaboratively working for the betterment of their neighborhoods and communities.
State government and counties have to come together to find a workable solution. We worked together to provide an opportunity for communities to address this complex issue promptly with lower costs. Senate Bill 450 (Senator Thomas J. Umberg) was signed into law last year to allow cities to purchase motels and convert them into housing – in a faster and more affordable fashion. Accordingly, in this time of unprecedented housing need, Governor Newsom expanded this effort with financial support into Project Homekey, California’s $600 million program to purchase and rehabilitate housing – including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties – and convert them into permanent, long-term housing, to help counties like Los Angeles tackle homelessness head on. This includes cities like Long Beach, which was awarded nearly $16.7 million in funding for the project.
With the State’s funding and support of Project Homekey, we are transforming select motels into affordable apartments with wraparound services. This model is quicker and less expensive than building new housing from scratch. Just this past week these funds were used in in Long Beach to acquire a property that will include 102 units and will serve as transitional housing, helping to address a critical gap in the city’s Continuum of Care. This will offer a safe place and supportive services for people who are experiencing homelessness. That is exactly what needs to happen all across the state. There are more plans like this to purchase more motels and convert them to supportive housing units for formerly homeless residents. This is part of a large-scale effort aimed at protecting the state’s homeless residents who are at high risk for serious illness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To address the ongoing homelessness crisis, eight Project Homekey projects have been approved in LA County so far, and we will continue to advocate for hotel/motel conversions as a way to create much-needed supportive housing. There is more work to be done, but thanks to Project Homekey, we are another step closer to alleviating the burdens we all face in this difficult time.
California is stronger when local governments and the state work together to find solutions. Our communities need transitional housing for the homeless to open as soon as possible. We must continue to support our local communities as they desperately work to implement life-changing efforts for those in need. After all, the issues of homelessness go beyond those experiencing it directly. Homelessness has negative correlations with many larger environmental and economic problems that affect us all -- even if we are lucky enough to go to sleep at night with a roof over our heads. Homelessness is a complex problem that requires us to rely on each other for creative solutions like Project Homekey.
Project Homekey has garnered significant positive response from local governments and housing providers across the board, further demonstrating the strength of these state-local partnerships. By the application deadline of September 29, a total of 147 applications had been received from 73 entities statewide. California is on the verge of transforming homelessness and becoming a model for our country and others to follow. We will work together to take care of each other.
You can voice your support for Project Homekey, and making our communities healthier, by contacting my office. You can reach me by email at Senator.Umberg@sen.ca.gov or by phone at (714) 558-3785.