Vagabond Inn in Oxnard Moves Closer to Permanent Housing for Homeless People
The Vagabond Inn in Oxnard could soon transition from an affordable hotel option to permanent supportive housing for 70 of the county’s homeless residents, thanks to a state funding effort that aims to house California’s most vulnerable homeless individuals.
The Vagabond Inn is under consideration for funding under Project Homekey, the next phase in the state’s efforts to protect homeless residents who are high-risk for COVID-19. In July, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $600 million in funding for cities and counties to convert motels, hotels and other housing types into permanent housing.
“This is an opportunity that allows us to both respond to COVID-19 and respond to homelessness and the long-term need to provide housing,” said Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez.
A news release announcing the funding called Project Homekey “the largest expansion of housing for people experiencing homelessness in recent history.”
The county received a notice of conditional award of roughly $9.5 million from Project Homekey, which uses federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds. The county will also contribute $3.5 million of its own federal coronavirus relief funds. There will be no cost to the city of Oxnard.
Project Homekey is an extension of Project Roomkey, a statewide initiative that aimed to reduce the spread among the state’s vulnerable homeless population by sheltering them in motel rooms. Project Roomkey prioritized high-risk individuals over age 65 or with existing health conditions. Project Homekey would similarly prioritize high-risk individuals.
From March through June, Ventura County sheltered over 400 homeless people in four motels through Project Roomkey: a Motel 6 in Newbury Park, a Best Western in Ventura, and Vagabond Inns in Ventura and Oxnard.
East County Location Also Considered
The county wasn’t limited to only these hotels in its search. The county invited all 10 cities to participate in the Project Homekey application process and selection of a site and development partners. Five chose to participate: Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Thousand Oaks and Fillmore.
According to Tracy McAulay, a management analyst for the county who is the lead on the county’s Project Homekey efforts, the team looked across all five cities for potential sites and also hoped to get a property in East County.
The county’s year-round homeless shelters are mostly concentrated in Ventura and Oxnard, which have the highest population of homeless people at 531 and 567, respectively.
Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley consistently rank third and fourth in the county for homelessness with 152 and 162 individuals, but there are currently no year-round shelters in East County.
A hotel in Thousand Oaks was considered, but it was purchased by another entity. The county and cities were also working under tight deadlines.
The state announced the funding in mid-July, and in order to have a competitive application the county had to apply with by Aug. 13. Counties must also spend the Project Homekey funding by Dec. 30 so the site had to be available for purchase before then.
According to McAulay, the majority of owners the team reached out to were not interested in selling their property, which narrowed down options to the Vagabond Inn.
The city of Oxnard identified the Vagabond Inn, which also hosted homeless residents under Project Homekey, early in the process.
“That owner was willing to talk to us. The motel was the right size and in good conditions, and that’s really how we ended up at the Vagabond Inn,” said McAulay.
From Interim Shelter to Permanent Housing
Oxnard held a virtual community meeting on the project on Sept. 2 and will hold a second meeting at a later date.
Some residents expressed concern over potential impact to property values and stated that there have been issues with trash and crime in the area around the Vagabond Inn during Project Roomkey.
Larry Haynes, the executive director of Mercy House, which will operate the shelter under Project Homekey, emphasized that Mercy House works to be a good neighbor in the community it serves.
Mercy House was not involved with the Project Roomkey program at the motel, and Haynes said that the organization typically “extends around the perimeter” of their locations to ensure that residents are not causing any issues in the surrounding community.
Additionally, Ramirez says the city only received two calls for service to the motel during Project Roomkey, and one was for a paramedic. Christy Madden, senior deputy executive officer with the county, added that Ventura County did not get a single complaint about the property under Project Roomkey.
Mercy House and Community Development Partners were selected in July to develop and eventually manage the Project Homekey motel.
The plan is to begin operating the Vagabond Inn as an interim shelter as soon as it is acquired. The hotel has 70 rooms, and there are about 40 Project Roomkey participants who are currently housed there using motel vouchers from the county. The hope is that those individuals could stay in place while the hotel’s remaining 30 rooms are filled.
Within the next two years, this interim shelter would be converted into permanent supportive housing. This would include the addition of kitchenettes to each unit. Residents of permanent supportive housing typically pay 30% of their income toward rent or 30% of their Social Security checks.
The county expects to hear from the state on whether the funding is confirmed sometime in September or October.
“Homekey funding is really significant in the fight to end homelessness in California. I’m really excited both for our community and the state that this funding has become available for this population and am really grateful that we have a project moving forward,” said McAulay.
Source: VC Star article from September 3, 2020