Project Roomkey a success in El Dorado County, officials say

Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat

A statewide program aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population has made strides in El Dorado County.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the county has housed approximately 40 homeless individuals in a Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe hotel under Project Roomkey, a collaborative government program seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those living on the streets.

The temporary program has the potential to be the foundation for future local homeless programs in the county, according to Dr. Martin Entwhistle, a member of the county’s COVID-19 homeless community response team.

“We’re gaining a lot of experience about this process that I think will be useful for a larger, future strategy around managing the homeless,” he said. “… I think this could be the basis of a program that could be migrated, even at a small scale.”

The program is set to run through July, with a chance for extension through August, according to Entwistle. Currently, 22 rooms are being used at the full-capacity Econo Lodge in South Lake Tahoe and 20 rooms are being used at the Best Western Stagecoach Inn in Pollock Pines.

The reopening of the economy poses a particularly risky threat to those living on the streets, Entwhistle said. That, along with a recent uptick in coronavirus cases locally, has county officials working diligently with the homeless.

“We’re all holding our breath about the increase in activity and the risk that represents for the homeless population,” he said. “We’re very mindful of that, so we’re still focused on maintaining infection control among (the homeless).”

With eight new cases reported Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in El Dorado County is up to 206. The number of known, active cases jumped from 56 to 78 since last Monday.

The county has focused on sheltering and providing services for those at the highest risk of suffering from the coronavirus, which includes the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Entwhistle said no homeless individuals have been hospitalized with coronavirus so far.

The county is providing the folks at the motels medical services through physicians at Marshall Hospital, help in securing medical coverage, future housing opportunities and skill development, Enwhistle said in May.

Gov. Newsom said Tuesday Project Roomkey has housed approximately 14,200 people across the state since the program’s launch in March.

The governor added that some hotels and motels utilized under the program could be purchased by the state and converted into permanent housing with $550 million recently allocated in the state budget.

In March El Dorado County homeless service providers were awarded more than $200,000 to protect and serve local homeless individuals amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The grants were among $100 million the state gave to local jurisdictions and other service providers last month for homeless services.

The El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency was awarded $109,909 while the county’s Continuum of Care program received $119,463.

A point-in-time count conducted in January 2019 found 613 homeless people in El Dorado County. The count represented a slight increase from two years earlier when officials counted 602 homeless people in the county.

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.