Despite a weekend setback when one hotel backed out, Orange County on Monday continued to identify sites where homeless people can be isolated or quarantined during the coronavirus outbreak.
County officials said Monday, April 6, that a plan to lease the Ayres Hotel in Laguna Woods as a site for the homeless fell apart on Sunday, when hotel owners asked to be released from a contract that had only been announced last week.
“They didn’t indicate why, but I assume it’s related to the community concerns expressed directly to that hotel,” said Orange County Chief Executive Frank Kim, referring to the public protests and deluge of calls to county and city officials from Laguna Woods residents.
Still, the county has already begun moving homeless people who have tested positive for coronavirus into another Ayres property, the ALO in Orange near UCI Medical Center. County officials said they expect to complete another contract later this week for 70 beds at a hotel in Stanton, though Jason Austin, the county’s director of care coordination, declined to identify that lodging.
Other sites, including at least one in south county to replace the controversial Laguna Woods location, are being pursued, according to Austin and other county officials. Prospects for that are unclear. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said during the news conference Monday that, prior to pulling out of the deal, the 138-bed Ayres was “the only hotel to step up and do their part in all of south Orange County.”
The search for hotels or motels willing to serve as temporary quarantine locations for homeless people who need medical care because they are symptomatic or known to have tested positive for coronavirus is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s so-called “Project Roomkey.” In that effort, Newsom has pledged to move at least 15,000 homeless people into safer circumstances until the pandemic subsides — a move viewed by health officials as good for the homeless and the general population.
So far, the contracts signed by the county and local hotels and the agency that would provide services to the homeless while under quarantine — the Illumination Foundation — run for three months. The $16-million contract calls for the Illumination Foundation to provide 24/7 security, transportation to or from the locations, all meals, and other support.
The county is considering using non hotel beds as well.
Officials said Monday they continue to refurbish the shuttered Joplin Youth Center in Trabuco Canyon to place homeless people who are at greater risk of coronavirus because of age or underlying health conditions, but water quality questions have delayed that. Austin said the site is expected to open by next week.
Initial plans called for housing 80 homeless people at Joplin, but Austin said it could be expanded to 100 beds, depending on need.
The county also is looking at placing big tents, so-called “sprung structures,” at regional parks as places where homeless people living on the streets can find shelter and access to restrooms and handwashing stations, crucial to hygiene practices necessary to mitigate spread of the viral disease.
The county also might consider using empty dorms at local colleges as potential quarantine beds for the homeless.
County officials, aware of the controversial politics that have long dogged opening homeless shelters and other housing here and elsewhere in California, on Monday did not identify any park where a tent might be erected. But Austin said there would be as many as three tent locations, with about 80 people living at each site.
Though the public has pushed back on such projects, county officials and others point out that the homeless won’t be in contact with the public and the hotels will be locked down.
Another option to quarantine the homeless seems to be moving forward. The state is allocating 78 travel trailers to five Orange County cities: 39 to Anaheim, 22 to Santa Ana, five to Tustin, and the rest divided between Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach.
The county recorded about 4,000 unsheltered homeless people when the last Point in Time count was conducted in January 2019. Although several homeless shelters have opened since then, there are still nowhere near enough beds identified as yet under the temporary pandemic housing plans.