Project Roomkey: Housing for our most vulnerable during the COVID crisis

LA Homeless Services Authority
The Road Home
Published in
5 min readApr 9, 2020


Project Roomkey is a coordinated effort to secure 15,000 hotel and motel rooms in L.A. County. These rooms will act as temporary shelters for seniors and those suffering from chronic illness. This includes people experiencing homelessness who do not currently have symptoms but are at high-risk for hospitalization if they contract the virus.

This is an unprecedented project to address an unprecedented health crisis. As a result, there are many questions about how this will work.


Alex Tseroukian sits on a bed in his new hotel room after living his car
Alex Tseroukian sits on a bed in his new hotel room after living his car, Monday, April 6, 2020. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Who will be occupying the rooms?

People who are experiencing homelessness who have shown no symptoms of illness but are deemed “High-Risk” based on CDC Guidelines.

How does someone get a room?

Individuals are pre-screened and selected by a homeless services provider or referred by an outreach team before they can be transported to the location. Clients cannot walk-up and access the sites without a referral.

What are the qualifications to secure a room?

Service providers are prioritizing the most vulnerable to COVID-19 — those aged 65 or older and people who are at higher risk for severe illness — chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, conditions that can cause a person to be immunocompromised, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and who are undergoing dialysis, and liver disease.

Musa Khan, center, with the LA City clerk’s office, pushes the belongings of person into a hotel, Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

What happens if someone contracts the virus? Do they go to a medical bed or shelter-in-place?

Each site will follow the detailed protocols issued by the Department of Public Health, should a client begin exhibiting any signs of illness.

Are there other hotels that I can go to? / Do you have any other shelter that can help me tonight?

Contact 211 to find your nearest shelter location or service provider for assistance finding an emergency shelter location. A list of Winter Shelter sites is also available on​.

Robert Romo and Cassie Gamboa register for a hotel room Jennifer Burgos, right, of Union Station Homeless Services, Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

How will the hotel be secured during its use?

Site administrators are ensuring that only pre-screened and selected clients are allowed on site. Each occupant receives an identifier at check-in that will notify security that they are a registered occupant of the hotel. Only those clients who possess the identifier are allowed to enter the site.

How long will the hotel be used for this purpose?

The State of California and the County of Los Angeles are negotiating agreements with hotels across the county for three months beginning from each site’s opening date.

Will there be security?

Contracted firms will provide onsite security 24 hours a day. The Los Angeles Police Department (or the local law enforcement agency) is fully aware of these hotels and will be on standby should they need to respond.

How are you ensuring that no one who enters will have COVID-19?

Prior to entrance, clients will be screened for symptoms pursuant to guidance issued by the Department of Public Health. Additionally, on-site staff and clients will be checked daily for symptoms.

A nurse takes the temperature of Anthony Riable as he checks into a hotel after living in a shelter.
A nurse takes the temperature of Anthony Riable as he checks into a hotel after living in a shelter, Monday, April 6, 2020. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Will there be medical staff onsite to monitor the occupant’s health?

Each site will have, on premise, a Registered Nurse and a Certified Nurse’s Assistant to provide medically administered health checks.

Will guests be able to come and go from the hotel as they please?

Guests are expected to abide by the same “Safer at Home” and social distancing guidance as everyone else in Los Angeles, but they are permitted to leave their rooms between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. as needed ​(note that every site will have its unique set of operation hours)​.

How many hotels/rooms are you aiming to convert to shelter?

The County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) are targeting 15,000 motel/hotel rooms county-wide.

How is this project being funded?

In mid-March, Governor Newson took emergency action and authorized $150 million in funding to protect homeless Californians from COVID-19. $50 million was set aside to purchase travel trailers and lease rooms in motels, hotels, and other facilities for immediate shelter for homeless families and individuals. Additionally, the County and LAHSA are using their direct allocations from the Governor’s COVID-19 response Emergency Funding.

What was the process for securing the hotels?

The State of California, in close coordination with the County of Los Angeles, has led the outreach efforts to hotels and motels interested in negotiating a temporary lease agreement for these purposes.

Ruja Moshtaghi, of the LA City clerk’s office, takes inventory of meals to be delivered to clients in their new hotel rooms, Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Who is staffing the site? What services are being provided?

Sites will be staffed by a local homeless services provider with professional expertise in administering interim housing sites. Clients will receive three meals a day along with case management services to assist these individuals to find stable housing.

Are these sites going to be used to create space for existing shelters?

The goal is to get as many of our homeless neighbors who are the most at-risk — over the age of 65 and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions — into a shelter and out of danger. Before the pandemic, our shelters were near 100% full and we have to abide by the CDC-recommended 6-foot distancing rule. We are using these hotels, extended LAHSA Winter Shelter sites, and the City congregate shelters to help alleviate capacity issues at our current shelter sites and to get as many people inside as possible.

For more information about how LAHSA is responding to COVID-19, head to



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