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Tuolumne, Calaveras ‘Project Roomkey’ Plans Roll Out

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Sonora, CA — Project Roomkey efforts to provide emergency temporary shelter to at risk residents are underway in both Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

Calaveras County Health and Human Services Director Kristin Stranger qualifies the efforts as not really a homeless program but a public health COVID-19 response program, because it could potentially help house non-homeless individuals such as a first responder who has to isolate and has nowhere else safe to do so.

“The project itself a braiding of funding sources,” she further explains, noting that the $71,000 portion Calaveras received that was funneled through the Central Sierra Continuum of Care, will not in itself be enough to cover all related expenses to provide motel accommodations along with wrap-around services such as food, security, PPE, housekeeping, and communications.

“We are going to use it in combination with the flexibility the state has granted us with existing [homeless] funding, the FEMA reimbursement, and another homeless funding pot — we have a multitude of sources to help bridge the costs.”

She continues, “We want to be nimble to meet all the needs and use some funding to do outreach so they understand COVID, how to handle it, and help provide those already sheltering in place with resources.”

This Tuesday, the Calaveras supervisors among other regular agenda items, anticipate authorizing Board Chair Merita Callaway to sign occupancy month-to-month leases for an amount not to exceed $50,000 during the term of the agreements with Angels Inn, Sierra Inn and Travelodge motels to provide non-congregate shelter options for at risk populations during the pandemic emergency. The rates run from $70 to $90 per night with a $20 per night pet fee.

She praised the level of cooperation her office has received from other counties who are further ahead in dealing with high numbers of COVID cases, and state agencies helping coordinate and locate needed resources to cover all the requirements. “This is an evolving program like the COVID-19 response is evolving with guidance that gets updated from the state and we are doing our very, very best to meet the needs of the community with the evolving guidance,” Stranger states. “The response is steeped in science and it is evolving too. It has such a huge impact on everything we are seeing.”

Tuolumne County’s Project Roomkey Plan

Tuolumne County Homeless Coordinator Kellae Brown says three lodging operators responded to the county’s recent request for Project Roomkey bid proposals and that her office narrowed it down to one with which they are working to finish negotiating wrap-around services to be provided. She declined to provide the name of the lodging establishment, citing the need to protect the privacy of those being sheltered.

Like Calaveras, Tuolumne currently has the advantage of having a low number of positive cases thus far. However, it has a larger homeless population, based on the point-in-time count and what those who provide various services know about those outside the count. Specifically for Project Roomkey, they received $110,000 through the SCCoC.

Brown stresses that Project Roomkey is not geared to temporarily re-house everyone staying in homeless camps. “It is not safe for them or staff — we will continue to support them where they are.”

So far she says, “From what I am hearing…no homeless person has tested positive.” However, she acknowledges due to the lack of available testing there could be positive cases or people of interest floating around the county.

“It could be one, it could be 300 — and wouldn’t that be something to think about,” she says with a slight exhale. “We have been doing massive amounts of work for weeks for, say a dinner party for which you don’t know how many are coming but all will be ravenously hungry. No one has ever done this before, we don’t know if we are doing it right and we won’t know for some time after it is over. I do know everyone around me is working very long days and very concerned about the community.”

Those who want to access Project Roomkey resources in either county must be referred from a health care professional following an assessment for COVID-19 or exposure. Public Health departments in both counties can also help steer the way. The number for Calaveras is 209 754-6460 and for Tuolumne, 209 533-7401. Homeless and at risk seeking shelter can also call ATCAA at 533-1397 and hit the prompt for housing services.