Two Oakland hotels used to house homeless amid COVID-19 crisis

Alameda County has housed some 70 homeless residents in local hotel rooms during the novel coronavirus pandemic with plans for hundreds more, a spokeswoman for the county said Thursday.

The county is operating about 400 rooms at the Radisson Hotel and the Comfort Inn and Suites, both on Edes Avenue in Oakland, to house homeless residents during the pandemic, including those who have already tested positive for the virus or who may be at a higher risk of being exposed.

The state's Department of Social Services secured contracts with the two hotels on behalf of Alameda County. The state has also provided 91 trailers to the city of Oakland to house homeless residents.

The Comfort Inn and Suites, dubbed Operation Comfort, will house homeless residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus and those who are showing symptoms or who have been exposed to someone who has the virus. 

Ailing residents sheltered at the hotel will also receive medical treatment.
"Alameda County began referrals with the first population, so that anyone with a potential infection could quickly be moved away from others into supportive isolation," county spokeswoman Jerri Randrup said in an email.

The county will accept referrals at the hotel from official partner organizations and entities such as hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, street outreach teams and Santa Rita Jail. County officials have already distributed referral information to more than 100 local service 

The Radisson Hotel, which county officials are calling Operation Safer Ground, will house homeless residents who are older than 65 or have an underlying health disorder that may put them at higher risk to contract the virus.

The county's Health Care Services Agency has identified eligible residents for Operation Safer Ground with help from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development database.

The county is operating the hotels in coordination with the state's Project Roomkey, an initiative to procure thousands of hotel rooms and trailers to house homeless residents during the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that the state received the Federal Emergency Management Agency's approval to launch the program. Newsom said the state aims to procure some 15,000 rooms for the initiative's first phase and had acquired nearly 7,000 as of Friday.

FEMA will subsidize up to 75 percent of the state and local government expenses required to procure the unused rooms as well as supporting meal, custodial and security services.

Alameda County is participating in the initiative and will seek FEMA reimbursement for its expenses procuring contracts with subsequent hotels and motels.

Homeless advocates have argued that the county's efforts are moving at a glacial pace considering the county has some 8,000 homeless residents, more than 6,000 of whom are unsheltered.

"As we are seeing played out in tragic ways, the pandemic has exposed the injustice fault lines in our society," said Needa Bee, founder of homeless advocacy group The Village in Oakland. "The response, or lack of response, will make this clear."

Advocates have also called for the seizure of empty housing units and homes in Oakland for use to shelter homeless residents during the pandemic, a step county and local governments have yet to take in the Bay Area.

Alameda County officials are still seeking contracts for an additional 300 units, according to Randrup.

"Our goal is to secure rooms quickly at a competitive price, and we hope to have geographic diversity for our residents across the county in need of assistance," she said.

County officials are also participating in twice-weekly teleconferences with officials from other counties to coordinate the regional response to homelessness during the pandemic.