Project Roomkey underway at Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach Boardwalk
By Sam Catanzaro
A hotel on the Venice Beach Boardwalk has begun housing homeless individuals who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Project Roomkey, a collaborative effort by the State, County and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), secures hotel and motel rooms for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.
“It provides a way for people who don’t have a home to stay inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” reads the County website. “Project Roomkey aims to not only protect high-risk individuals, but to also prevent the spread of the deadly virus in our communities and protect the capacity of our fragile hospitals and healthcare system by providing a place for individuals to safely isolate.”
One of these participants is the Cadillac Hotel on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Sris Sinnathamby, owner of the hotel, says that participants began moving into the hotel on Friday, beginning the 90-day program. At 48 rooms, the Cadillac Hotel is one of the smaller participants in the program, and Sinnathamby says that he expects to reach max capacity soon.
“Generally, they are doing bigger hotels, like 100-room hotels, but the Cadillac has 48 rooms, but because of the location and proximity to the bridge housing they needed something in that area,” Sinnathamby said on Friday. “As I expected, it is going to be 100 percent full by 72 hours because of the location.”
According to Sinnathamby, the program is primarily financed by FEMA with 25 percent coming from counties and cities. As of Sunday, the County has secured more than 2,500 rooms
The rooms are for people experiencing homelessness who are not COVID-19 positive or symptomatic, but are vulnerable to complications should they become infected with COVID-19. If a client begins to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, site staff will activate emergency protocols and be transferred for further care. In addition, the County will deep clean the hotel if a client is found to have tested positive.
According to the County, to qualify to participate in Project Roomkey, individuals must be 65 years of age or older or have underlying medical conditions or be medically compromised. In addition, clients must be referred to the program by a homeless services provider or law enforcement.
“This group of people are significantly more likely to need hospitalization, and require critical care if infected with COVID-19. That surge of infection would severely impact our healthcare system,” the County says.
Sinnathamby shared this view, saying participation made “common sense” for the Cadillac Hotel, the only hotel in the area taking part in Project Roomkey.
“There are so many places that are closed like Venice Suites is closing next door, [Surfsun] on Windward Avenue is closed,” Sinnathamby said. “And then I also have staff who desperately need work as well. They want to continue work and then you know it just makes sense.”
According to Sinnathamby, the County is providing 24-hour staff to compliment the Cadillac Hotel’s staff. The County has contracted with a private security firm to deploy security guards on-site 24 hours per day, seven days per week. At least one professional security guard is present for every 50 rooms.
“My staff will fill the front desk, cleaning the hotel, maintenance,” Sinnathamby said. “But in terms of vetting all of them, taking temperatures, security, everything else the county is providing, and they have provided a lot of staff.”
The rooms participants stay in are basic, with TVs, phones and twice a week maid service. In addition, three meals a day are provided for participants.
“We left the TVs there because they are isolating so they need some stuff entertaining,” Sinnathamby said. “We do have phones for them if they want to call down to reception or they want to call one of their relatives, or they want to call LAHSA.
Accoridng to the County, Project Roomkey clients must adhere to physical distancing and Safer At Home guidelines, which means they can only leave the hotel for essential services and cannot gather in common areas.
Sinnathamby went on to say that nearby residents have nothing to worry about.
“They have zero [things] to worry about. These are older folks who are confined to their rooms. They are socially isolating…these are not COVID-19 patients. These are people who are at risk for health reasons and they are socially isolating. We are not running a hospital or something. They are not isolating because they have COVID-19 or had it. They have all been pre-vetted,” Sinnathamby said. “It’s a worthwhile project. I am proud to be part of it and 100 percent the neighbors have nothing to worry about. We will be back to being Cadillac in a short bit of time.”
“There has obviously been some pushback in some parts like Laguna Beach and around there. The only thing I would say is to understand what they are doing first before anybody should be complaining about things,” Sinnathamby added.
Looking ahead, LAHSA, the County, and non-profit partners are working together to develop a plan for those who receive temporary assistance under Project Roomkey, so that they do not return to the streets once the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end.
According to the County, while participants are staying at these hotels, on-site service providers are working with each client individually to develop an exit plan, with the goal of moving them to a situation that permanently resolves their homelessness. In cases where this isn’t feasible, LAHSA will use existing shelter capacity to move people into an interim housing environment or explore other options.
“They are not on vacations. It’s not like there are these 50 homeless people just wandering the neighborhood. They are really known as participants, and they really volunteering to participate so they know what the rules are. The rules are they are there for their safety and they need to socially isolate so they can’t go around and hand out on the beach and come back in,” Sinnathamby said.