In response to COVID-19, the state of California devised Project Roomkey (PRK) to support people experiencing homelessness. Rather than force people to choose between living on the streets or congregating in shelters when they should be practicing social distancing, PRK enabled people to temporarily reside in hotel or motel rooms or groups of trailers (PRK “sites”) where they also could receive limited supportive services, such as meals and laundry services. California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation contracted Abt Associates to evaluate the PRK program. From August 2021 through July 2022, Abt’s evaluation team interviewed stakeholders across the state who had implemented the PRK program.
- From the allotment of federal funds to the design of both statewide and local programs, PRK’s implementation—which took place in a matter of weeks—was remarkably swift at every level.
- As the report notes, “This model has given people autonomy, privacy, and safety.” These are not characteristics that are typically associated with shelters, and the lack thereof has been a disincentive for people who have refused the use of shelters in the past but participated in PRK. This, combined with the opportunities PRK offered for residents to receive healthcare and other services, led many homeless system leaders to believe PRK “broke new ground for how emergency shelter and interim housing is offered to people experiencing homelessness.”
- PRK participants were found to need a higher level of medical care than anticipated. Others needed support with tasks associated with daily living.
- Despite the rapid and efficient implementation of PRK, many counties are still waiting for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).