The Sacramento Bee, Mar. 15, 2020
By Wes Venteicher and Theresa Clift
California state government is procuring hotels and motels to shelter the homeless as part of the state’s effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday.
In addition, the state is sending 450 travel trailers to locations around the state to help shelter many of the 108,000 unsheltered homeless people living in California, Newsom said.
Calling homelessness a “top concern” in the state of California, Newsom announced the measures along with the latest figures on the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, at an afternoon news conference at the state Office of Emergency Services.
Newsom said 334 people have tested positive for the disease in the state and six have died.
The homelessness measures will help “get people out of encampments and into environments where we can address their growing anxiety and our growing concern about the health of some of our most vulnerable Californians,” he said.
Newsom didn’t specify where the state is procuring the hotels or motels, or where it is sending the trailers.
It was unclear Sunday how the measures would impact Sacramento County.
A task force of city, county and Sacramento Steps Forward officials plan to meet Monday to discuss the governor’s instructions to convert motels to temporary shelters, said Kim Nava, a county spokeswoman.
Turning hotels into homeless shelters is not a new concept for the city of Sacramento. A homeless shelter with services is currently open in the Capitol Park Hotel, a single-room occupancy hotel downtown, where more than 100 homeless men and women are currently living. City Councilman Jeff Harris has previously proposed converting the Motel 6 on Alhambra Boulevard into a temporary homeless shelter by October.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-chairs Newsom’s homelessness task force, said the occasion illustrated the importance of a statewide mandate to require cities meet aggressive goals to house the homeless or face court action. The task force is asking for the mandate to be placed on the November ballot.
“Everyone needs to be indoors,” Steinberg said Sunday during a City Hall press conference. “And if we can use this terrible crisis to actually take the next steps to find enough beds, enough shelter enough navigation centers, enough permanent supportive housing to dramatically reduce the number on our streets, that would be an incredible silver lining out of a most difficult time.”
The city has also set aside $250,000 for cleaning and sanitation services for the city’s homeless population. In addition, nonprofit Sacramento Covered is handing out 250,000 bottles of hand sanitizer this week, Nava said.
A January 2019 count found there were 5,570 homeless people living in Sacramento County, mostly in the city and mostly sleeping outdoors.
The city plans to open large shelters in Meadowview and on state land in North Oak Park this spring, but neither have opened yet. All shelters in the city are typically full on any given night.
Crystal Sanchez, of the Sacramento Tenants Union, shared the news Sunday with a tight-knit group of homeless men and women who live in south Sacramento near Morrison Creek. The group of about 30, who used to camp at the San Juan Motel site on Stockton Boulevard, were pleased with the news, Sanchez said. But their main concern is they will not be able to stay together.
“They said, ‘we all need to go if we’re gonna go, not just one of us,’” Sanchez said.
The organization, working with the city, plans to install 30 hand washing stations at Sacramento encampments in the coming days, Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the campers along the American River are still going to Loaves and Fishes for meals, but are more “bunkered down” than usual, not leaving their tents very often.
Newsom said the social distancing steps being taken in other state populations need to be applied in homeless shelters.
The homelessness announcement was one of three Newsom made Sunday.
The other two were directives to close state bars, brewpubs, night clubs and wineries and to call on people over 65 and those with chronic conditions to stay inside as much as possible.
Newsom signed an executive order Thursday expanding the state’s authority to seize private property, including hotels, to use in the state’s response to coronavirus.
The state is already using hotels in San Mateo and Monterey counties to house people who have tested positive but are not sick enough to need hospital care.
Newsom in January proposed using 100 state-owned trailers to temporarily house the homeless and provide health care services. Several cities, including Stockton, received those trailers. Sacramento has not yet received one.
For people who might fear becoming homeless if they can’t pay their mortgage or their rent, Newsom said he expects to release new guidance Monday on eviction protocols.
The city Friday adopted a temporary eviction ban, effective for both residential and business tenants.