Fill Hotels Not Graves
As the COVID19 pandemic and the shelter in place became a reality, tourism came to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms in became and remained vacant.
In March 2020, California Gavin Nuesome gave Mayors of California the power to commandeer the empty hotel rooms for unhoused residents to shelter in place.
Very few mayors in California act on this opportunity to prevent the spread of COVID amongst their unhoused constituents, and did so only after pressure from the community. Here in Oakland, Mayor Libby Schafft made a public announcement that she would not be using the hotels to allow our city’s unhoused to shelter in place.
On April 24, 2020 we took matters in our own hands. In partnership with our sister organizations Love & Justice in the Streets and The East Oakland Collective, we began to move in unhoused residents into empty hotels. Our effort was the first COVID Shelter in Place hotel program in all of Alameda, and it was primarily funded thru donations made to GoFundMe campaign we launched.
From April 2020 – July 2021 we were able to house a total of 47 households who were vulnerable to COVID (seniors, folks with pre-existing medical conditions, families with small children, and pregnant women). 150 people between the ages of 1 month and 80 years old were housed for more than a year.
The hotels we used had full kitchens in each room. We worked with the Homeless Action Center to make sure all our residents had IDs and benefits they qualified for. We worked with medical practitioners to make sure our residents received the proper health care they needed, had proper diagnosis, and up to date medical paperwork. We worked with food justice programs to makes sure residents had groceries and hot meals if they were in need. We worked with front line programs to make sure our residents had COVID supplies like masks and hand sanitizer and up to date information about the pandemic.
That year indoors was life changing for people’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. We saw immediate positive impacts in the first week alone. Long term positive impacts included the pregnant women being able to keep their babies because they were not returning to the streets, but to a hotel; residents who had been denied life saving surgeries were able to receive the needed medial procedures because they had a hotel room to recover in; some residents were able to kick long-time drug use and even addiction once they were stablized in the hotels. Our COVID19 shelter in place efforts proved what we already knew: housing is a public health intervention!
Many residents were exited from the hotel program into permanent housing. Some residents were exited into Alameda County’s Safer Ground transitional hotel program, which navigated them into permanent supportive housing. A handful of residents were exited into tiny homes on wheels. Several residents chose to be exited into RVs, campers and vans of their choice.
Our Fill Hotels Not Graves program informed us to create a new short term hotel voucher program called Streetcation.
Just as rich, middle class and working class folks need vacations from the daily grind of the rat race, so too do folks living curbside needs a break from life on the streets and all the struggles, anxieties and pressures that come with life on the brink of survival.
Our Streetcation program will offer temporary, short-term sanctuary to victims of violence, folks recovering from medical procedures, folks waiting to get into a drug treatment center, and women who have just given birth.
Our hotel voucher program is managed 100% by volunteers and paid for primarily by donations made to our GoFundMe campaign. Please consider donating towards helping an unhoused person get an emergency hotel voucher by donating here. Thank you in advance.