In April 2020 the California Department of Social Services implemented Project Roomkey, a temporary FEMA- and state-supported, county-implemented COVID-19 response program to provide noncongregate shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The initial project goals were to protect human life, reduce COVID-19 transmission, and minimize strain on health care system capacity.
Within months, more than 16,000 hotel and motel rooms and over 1,300 trailers were secured with over 23,000 people served across the state. Fifty-five counties and three tribes participated in the program.
The approach to implementation of the program varied by county, in terms of the participating agencies at the local level, as well as referral, intake, and discharge procedures. Project Roomkey represented a more than 50% increase in the number of people sheltered in California and demonstrates the ability for local systems of care to quickly expand capacity and partnerships to house and serve a highly vulnerable population.
While local evaluations of Project Roomkey sites have been completed, most notably one on San Francisco’s experience published in JAMA, and statewide analysis and reporting by the Desert Sun has contributed to the public’s awareness of the program’s impact, questions remain, including:
- The total costs of implementation
- Facilitators and barriers to effective implementation
- Populations prioritized and served stratified by race and ethnicity
- Partnerships and services necessary to engage, stabilize, and effectively care for residents
- Health impacts of the program stratified by service model and other regional factors
- Experiences of people served in Project Roomkey sites
To help answer these questions and to understand the implications of findings on policy, public health, and delivery system design, CHCF is supporting a statewide evaluation of Project Roomkey by Abt Associates. A collaboration with the Hilton Foundation, the two-year project will include:
- Evaluation design and data collection plan
- Statewide web-based survey
- Site visits and interviews with people with lived experience
- Administrative data collection and analysis
- Final report and case studies