By Anna Laven, Stephen Pelz and Deborah Johnson.
A version of this op-ed appeared in The Bakersfield Californian. To view the original post, click here.
The Housing Authority of the County of Kern, California Veterans Assistance Foundation and Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative are on the frontlines working to end homelessness in our communities and build a future where every person in Kern County has a permanent place to call home.
This year, our work has been further complicated by COVID-19 and we have had to pivot.
Many of our unsheltered homeless persons are at high-risk for contracting COVID-19. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community, our organizations have partnered to launch Kern Project Roomkey.
Kern Project Roomkey is a short-term initiative funded by the state of California to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Kern Project Roomkey will enable homeless individuals who are at high-risk of serious health complications to self-isolate in a motel.
To be eligible for Kern Project Roomkey, a homeless individual must be over the age of 65 or have a chronic health condition or be pregnant and be able to provide care for themselves.
Unsheltered homeless persons who have not had any known COVID-19 exposures can be referred to Kern Project Roomkey by a street outreach team, hospital or by calling (661) 342-5586. Those who meet the eligibility criteria are offered placement in the program. If the individual agrees to program policies, they are provided safe transportation to the Kern Project Roomkey facility. Once they arrive, they are tested for COVID-19 and are assigned a primary medical and behavioral health care team. Individuals can remain in Kern Project Roomkey for up to 90 days, and the program is planned to last for four months at one local motel.
Sadly, we have encountered a substantial amount of misinformation regarding COVID-19 prevention programs like Kern Project Roomkey. A recent opinion claims that a San Francisco project is housing homeless individuals in luxury hotels with free drugs and alcohol (“COMMUNITY VOICES: Hotels alone are not the answer to homeless crisis; one local organization is doing it right,” Aug. 18).
We aren’t in a position to either validate or refute those claims. However, we can say with absolute certainty that they bear no semblance to Kern Project Roomkey. We are Kern County and design programs to benefit our specific community.
Here are the facts you should know about Kern Project Roomkey:
- Kern Project Roomkey is not converting motels into homeless shelters. Kern Project Roomkey is a COVID-19 prevention project with one local motel to provide isolation for high-risk unsheltered homeless people
- Kern Project Roomkey will conduct criminal background checks and make appropriate decisions for the safety of other participants and neighbors
- Registered sex offenders cannot participate
- Nearby businesses are unlikely to notice an increased number of homeless people. The purpose of Kern Project Roomkey is to provide vulnerable individuals with a safe place to self-isolate, and participants agree to shelter-in-place and only leave the facility for essential services.
We’ve conducted extensive planning and outreach to launch Kern Project Roomkey with minimal, if any, negative impacts to the surrounding area. The facility is not located in a residential neighborhood and will be in a location where a high number of unsheltered homeless persons are often observed. Further, Kern Project Roomkey will have private staffing and security on-site for the duration of the four-month project.
Our goal is that Kern Project Roomkey not only helps our most vulnerable homeless people from contracting COVID-19, but also provides them with the supportive services they need to find permanent housing after their time at Kern Project Roomkey.
The city of Bakersfield Board of Zoning Adjustment earlier this month unanimously approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Kern Project Roomkey. Now, the final requirement before we can open Kern Project Roomkey is for the Bakersfield City Council to approve the issuance of the CUP.
Together, we can do our part to keep our community safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes helping homeless individuals at high-risk of COVID-19 take action to protect themselves. This is a public health and public safety issue that if ignored or worse, opposed, has a potential for a much greater cost to our community. We welcome your support and feedback.
To refer an individual for placement in Kern Project Roomkey, please call (661) 342-5586. To share feedback on Kern Project Roomkey, email Anna Laven at Anna.Laven.BKRHC@gmail.com.
Anna Laven is the executive director of the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative. Stephen Pelz is the executive director of the Housing Authority of Kern County and chair of the executive board of the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative. Deborah Johnson is the president and CEO of the California Veterans Assistance Foundation and chair of the governing board of the Bakersfield/Kern County Continuum of Care.