Project Roomkey: 300-plus homeless individuals move into DTLA hotel during COVID-19 pandemic

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A statewide program designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population by getting them off the streets and into empty hotel rooms is making significant strides in Los Angeles County.

This week, more than 300 people moved into an undisclosed hotel in downtown L.A. as part of Project Roomkey, which primarily helps to find rooms for homeless seniors and those with existing health conditions.

Among the hotel's new temporary residents is Daniel Rambert, who had nowhere else to go after being released from the hospital a week ago following treatment for a heart virus.

"It's like heaven compared to what the alternatives could be," said Rambert, who added that he fell through the cracks after his job was put on hold because of the coronavirus.

Plans to launch the program in certain areas of the state, including in Los Angeles County, has prompted residents of those neighborhoods to protest, citing concerns of what will happen with the homeless individuals once their housing ends.

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Dozens of residents on Saturday protested outside a Motel 6 in Rosemead, which will soon house some of the region's homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The people that are staying here are just like your next door neighbors. You wouldn't know otherwise," said Russ Cox, a representative for the owners of the hotel.

Cox says Project Roomkey has allowed the hotel to bring back some workers. All guests are pre-screened by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, or LAHSA, and the Salvation Army provides three meals a day.

"They do have their guidelines and restrictions and there's no visitors and so on and so forth, our temperature is taking every day," Rambert said.

The program is paid for mostly with federal money, but state records show only about half of the 15,000 rooms being leased by the state are occupied. Local leaders, however, still call the program a victory.

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Project Roomkey was created to protect the homeless from the coronavirus and has provided housing to over 7,000 people in just five weeks.

"In this region alone, 2,000-plus individuals who would otherwise be without a home, on the street, shelter-less, un-housed are now in a place that's safe and secure," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Under the program, room rentals are for 90 days, but LAHSA says it hopes it is a launching pad to provide ongoing services to permanently keep people off the streets.
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