The city of San Francisco is likely to pay out $19.5 million over a claim of property damage stemming from the housing of homeless people in privately owned hotels during the pandemic.
The settlement would end a lawsuit filed by the historic Hotel Whitcomb in April, KQED reported Friday.
The city housed about 400 people in the hotel during “Project Roomkey,” an effort by the California Department of Social Services to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s homeless population by relocating them in “emergency shelter” like the Whitcomb.
The hotel’s owners argued that the homeless people moved into their hotel caused nearly $20 million in damages, or roughly $48,750 for each of the homeless billeted there.
According to KQED, roughly 3,300 homeless were lodged in private hotel rooms, and the city expected to pay out $26 million or so in property damage claims according to a city budget report cited by KQED, or about $8,000 per individual.
However, claims already on the books exceeded that figure slightly.
Other hotels that filed claims against the city included the Tilden Hotel and the Hotel Union Square, which received $2.9 million and $5.3 million, respectively.
Combined with the Hotel Whitcomb claim, the total is already $27.7 million. Whether other properties would file such claims was unknown, although a spokeswoman for the city attorney’s office told the outlet in an email that the Whitcomb claim was “the last [shelter-in-place] Hotel claim for damages that the City is aware of.”
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However, the city has filed a reimbursement claim for $386 million with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and while it’s as yet unknown whether FEMA will cover the property damage claims, it’s at least possible that U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for these decisions by state and local bureaucrats in California.
Unsurprisingly, many of the homeless housed by the project were substance abusers, and at least 18 people overdosed at the Hotel Whitcomb during Project Roomkey.
The project, while undoubtedly helping some people, faced significant criticism as the pandemic wound to a close last year.
“It went from a program born out of necessity to keep vulnerable people from dying, to a boondoggle of a program which cities across the state use to put homeless when they take down their encampments,” wrote Evan Symon of the right-leaning California Globe.
“Our tents were nicer than those places they stuck us,” a homeless man named Trevor told the Globe. “We weren’t expecting a Holiday Inn or anything, but we wanted better than s***-hole. We didn’t get that. The first one I got had bedbugs, so several of us had to be moved.”
Trevor said Project Roomkey “makes it harder to get out of homelessness,” a position that Gabrielle told the Globe she agreed with.
“Staying at the Motels was hard because it was often at inconvenient locations,” said Gabrielle, who told the Globe she was no longer homeless. “I actually got a job in Long Beach while staying at one and had to go back to living in my tent because they refused to give me a closer room to my work and wouldn’t give me leeway on the curfew. I was in motel rooms, I’m guessing ten months with no improvement in my life.
“Once out, I had a job and eventually got an apartment within 4 months,” she added.
The opinions of the homeless population it allegedly exists to serve notwithstanding, California considers Project Roomkey a success, and has gone on to purchase additional facilities to house the homeless.
“Building on the success of Project Roomkey and Rehousing Strategy, the Homekey grant program, which is administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), created additional opportunities for agencies to acquire hotels, motels, apartments, and other buildings to provide long-term homes for people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness,” the state’s Department of Social Services website says.