Local motel houses homeless during pandemic

In a state with over 150,000 people living on the streets, a stay at home order can be devastating. To support those without homes, Newsom initiated Project Roomkey, which converts hotel and motel rooms into temporary shelters following social distancing guidelines for at-risk homeless persons. One of these shelters is the Motel 6 in Newbury Park.

About the motel

Off the Ventura Freeway and on the corner of Newbury Road is a Motel 6, one of the four locations in Ventura County housing homeless people most at risk for the coronavirus.  Marissa Mach, Deputy Director of the County of Ventura Human Services Agency expresses that only those who test negative for the virus are allowed to be housed at the motel.  “Each client goes through a health screening prior to admission. Each client is provided with three meals a day and an individual room placement with regular housekeeping and laundry services,” Mach said.

While the shelter in Newbury Park is not housing those infected, this is not the case for all of the motels in the county. Tara Carruth, program manager at the Ventura County Continuum of Care, distinguished the usage of hotels. “We are using a section of the motel site in Oxnard for isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 patients or those persons with known exposure,” Carruth said.

This motel is intended to benefit both those housed and the rest of the community. “The goal is to prevent the spread among the homeless community and the larger community…  Spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population could be a significant burden to our hospital partners…This allows for people to have a safe place to recover or stay well without utilizing hospital space that should be reserved for serious cases of COVID-19,” Carruth said.

Shelter – A homeless man walks through Gate 1 at the Motel 6, presumably seeking a roof over his head. COVID-19 has resulted in the thousands of homeless people across Ventura County needing someplace to stay following the lockdown orders. Prasheetha Karthikeyan/Prowler

Ventura County Backpack Team

Another program that is assisting the homeless during this time is the Ventura County Backpack Medicine Team. Originally started two years ago, the team was created to bring basic healthcare to the homeless population in Ventura County. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, Tipu Khan, leader of the team, states that there are several things they are doing right now, starting with giving medical care to those uninfected in the hotels. “They still need some basic medical care so the Backpack Medicine team is helping with some of that.

Another contribution the team offers is their COVID response program. “If a homeless patient is having symptoms or worried that they’re sick with coronavirus, they can call a phone number and it is routed to a member on our team. We screen the call and as soon as we get it evaluated, we send someone out to them,” Khan said.

Khan believes that his team is making a difference overall. “This has been huge because if these patients were out in the field, more might have ended up in the hospital really sick. So we were able to really keep these patients from getting too sick, identify them early, getting out of their high risk situation and keeping them,” Khan said.

The prospect of opposition

No major opposition has been brought up against the use of hotels and motels in Ventura County. It is currently unclear whether or not this will become an issue in the future.

“There has been no formal action that I am aware of against this operation…but this does not minimize the need for us to be aware and receptive to community feedback and communication,” Mach said. 

From a different perspective, Khan believes in the moral obligation behind it. “What defines us as a society is how we care for our most vulnerable. So in Ventura County, we make it an important enough point that we want to care about our most vulnerable,” Khan said. “I think that shows a lot about our society here.”