Nearly 50 Project Roomkey deaths in LA raise concern

Van Nuys hotel recorded 8 dead in program to protect homeless from Covid

The Airtel Plaza Hotel at Van Nuys Airport (Airtel Plaza Hotel)
The Airtel Plaza Hotel at Van Nuys Airport (Airtel Plaza Hotel)

A Los Angeles County program to house homeless people in hotels has registered 49 deaths of residents since its inception at the start of the pandemic.

The statewide Project Roomkey program was set up to house vulnerable individuals in motels and hotels to protect them from exposure to the coronavirus.

The tally includes eight people who died while staying at Airtel Plaza Hotel at Van Nuys Airport, according to the Los Angeles Times. The paper tracked Project Roomkey deaths through this spring with data from the L.A. County medical examiner and the L.A. Homeless Services Authority.

One of the residents died of coronary artery disease, others died of drug overdoses, while another died of “natural causes” off site, according to the Times. Airtel Plaza, one of the largest hotels participating in Project Roomkey, recorded the highest number of deaths.

California and the county set up the federally-funded program in April 2020. Besides protecting people, the program also pumped money into California’s hotel industry, which had all but shutdown.

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But Project Roomkey was riddled with issues, some of those included a lack of beds to keep up with demand and allegations that disabled individuals were locked out of the program.

Project Roomkey was supposed to wind down at the end of last year, but federal funds have allowed the county to keep it going through September. Airtel reopened under a new operator in April.

A new advocacy group, Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing, as well as Airtel residents, have complained of a number of issues, saying participants are under curfews and face harassment, according to the report.

“To tell the truth, I would be better off if I had stayed on the streets,” a former Airtel resident, Jennifer Blake, told the paper.

[LAT] — Isabella Farr

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