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California Leases Hotels as Homeless Shelters to Help Prevent Virus Spread

More Than 950 Hotels Eligible for State Leases from Emergency COVID-19 Funding

By Randyl Drummer CoStar News

March 19, 2020 | 04:26 A.M.

California officials have identified more than 950 hotels totaling tens of thousands of rooms that could be leased by the state and counties as housing and shelter for homeless people to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday announced that the state has signed leases for the first two hotels, unidentified properties in the San Francisco Bay Area near Oakland International Airport totaling 393 rooms, less than a week after issuing an emergency executive order reserving California's right to commandeer hotels and other facilities needed to deal with the escalating coronavirus, or COVID-19, crisis.

The state provided counties with a list of hundreds of California hotels and motels potentially available to lease over the next few months from the first $150 million allocation of homelessness-related funding in a $1.1 billion emergency spending bill passed by the legislature last week.

The spending includes $100 million for local governments to support shelters and emergency housing and $50 million to buy travel-trailers and lease hotels and other facilities to shelter some of the state's estimated 151,000 homeless people, many of whom have no ability to self-quarantine or shelter in place and are particularly susceptible to infection.

"The state and counties have already begun outreach to these hotels and motels now, and when we identify a willing partner, we initiate lease negotiations with the owner," Newsom said in a statement.

California is among several states considering repurposing hotels and other unused spaces in efforts to prepare to cope with the nation's growing number of confirmed cases of coronavirus, which have crippled healthcare and response systems in other countries where the virus is spreading such as Italy. Among the U.S. efforts, officials in the Seattle area have leased an Econolodge to use as a quarantine center while officials in New York are debating turning hotels into hospitals.

The goal of the California program, as outlined during two news conferences by Newsom this week, "is to 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 the most vulnerable Californians."

California had 751 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 13 deaths, as of midday Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The move could at least put empty rooms to work as California and the country's lodging industry reels from billions in losses due to travel bans and shelter-in-place mandates in the pandemic. For example, the W Hotel said it plans to temporarily close its doors in San Francisco, which locked down this week due to the virus. Others could follow suit.

Newsom's announcement did not specify which hotels could serve as shelters or quarantine sites for the homeless or other people vulnerable to contracting the highly contagious virus.

A comment on Wednesday by one lodging industry group suggested that using hotels as homeless shelters could be more complicated than it sounds.

"We’ve been working with the governor to try and identify safe and secure facilities, but it’s obviously not as simple as just saying, 'Open up the hotels,'" a spokesman for Hotel Association Executive Director Heather Rozeman said.

A few hotels around the state have announced they will take in cruise ship passengers or serve as quarantine sites. Most recently, the Ramada by Wyndham San Diego North Hotel & Conference Center in San Diego's Kearny Mesa area said that it would provide quarantine for people that don't have symptoms of being sick.

The state plans to immediately start acquiring more than 1,300 travel trailers from the the Federal Emergency Management Agency and private vendors to distribute to cities as quarantine facilities for people testing positive for or showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Newsom and other state officials also expect to release details as early as Friday on leases of two large hospital facilities in Southern and Northern California to supplement the state's 416 hospitals totaling almost 75,000 beds in an effort to meet potential surges in the number of patients.

State officials said they are looking to buy or lease other facilities and use state armories, fairgrounds and buildings to increase patient capacity.

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