Contra Costa County plans to turn a 174-room motel in Pittsburg into a permanent support hub to help homeless residents transition into supportive housing, county officials said Wednesday.

Contra Costa Health Services has been operating the Motel 6 at 2101 Loveridge Road as a temporary shelter for much of the novel coronavirus pandemic for homeless residents who lack the means to adequately isolate themselves.

The county recently received a $21.5 million grant from the state to turn the Motel 6 into a permanent hub for supportive services.

“This issue of homelessness impacts the entire state of California and is no longer a coastal issue. It’s not concentrated in just a few dense, urban environments in this state.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom

About $17.5 million of the grant will be used to purchase and renovate the property. The remaining grant funding will be used to hire staff and offer behavioral health services, meals and housing assistance.

“This is a great start toward building the services and resources East County needs to address homelessness,” said county Supervisor Federal Glover, whose district includes the motel. “There is a critical need for this project in our community.”

The county has received funding support to operate the motel as a temporary shelter from the state’s Project Roomkey, a federally backed initiative to procure thousands of unused hotel and motel rooms for the state’s homeless residents during the pandemic.

The state received approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Project Roomkey in early April.

The state’s agreement with FEMA stipulates that the agency will reimburse up to 75 percent of the state and local government expenses required to acquire the unused rooms and provide meal, custodial and security services.

State doles out grant money

Building off that program, the state is now rolling out Project Homekey, which involves issuing $600 million in grants to local jurisdictions to purchase hotels, motels, vacant apartment complexes and other buildings and turn them into supportive housing hubs.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the first tranche of grants totaling $76.5 million will be used to purchase 579 housing units in seven jurisdictions across the state.

“This issue of homelessness impacts the entire state of California and is no longer a coastal issue,” Newsom said. “It’s not concentrated in just a few dense, urban environments in this state.”

The state must disperse $550 million of the $600 million pool of grant funding by Dec. 30, Newsom said, because it came as a direct allocation from the federal government.

The remaining $50 million, which will come from the state’s general fund, must be exhausted by June 30, 2022.

In January, Contra Costa County’s annual point-in-time count of homeless residents tallied roughly 2,300 people without a permanent residence, 1,570 of whom were unsheltered, according to data from Contra Costa Health Services’ Health, Housing and Homeless Services Division.

As of January, eastern Contra Costa County had only 20 shelter beds for the more than 500 homeless residents living in the area. The 2020 count found that about one-third of the county’s unsheltered homeless residents lived in East County.

Since then, Contra Costa Health Services has rented 494 rooms at four motels to house the county’s homeless residents during the pandemic. More than 200 residents are currently sheltered at the Motel 6, according to the county.

Helping to find permanent housing

Health, Housing and Homeless Services director Lavonna Martin said the grant funding will allow the county to accelerate and diversify its efforts to connect unsheltered residents with permanent housing.

“This project creates a new interim housing option that allows for a greater degree of privacy and flexibility in household configurations we can serve, with the critical services and supports they need to regain permanent housing,” she said.

Newsom said he hopes state investments like Project Roomkey and Project Homekey to help homeless residents find permanent housing will make up for lost time the state could have used to combat homelessness.

“The state of California, for decades, was not focused as much as we would have liked on this issue,” he said. “So we are trying to make up for that and we are trying to take responsibility and move forward deliberatively.”