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Ninety-eight homeless residents in Merced County are now sheltering in hotel rooms in an effort to protect the vulnerable and slow COVID-19’s spread, county officials have announced.

The effort is part of the statewide initiative known as “Project Room Key.”

“We are taking a multi-agency approach to engaging with unsheltered homeless individuals and identifying those who need services and medical follow-ups due to COVID-19.” — Yvonnia Brown, director, Merced County Human Services Agency

7,000 California Homeless People Now Sheltered

It is estimated that about 7,000 people statewide have been moved out of shelters, vehicles and rough streets to ride out the pandemic in hotels.

San Francisco, for example, has moved more than 1,000 of its estimated 8,000 homeless into hotels. Nonprofits there even raised money to get rooms for some who couldn’t obtain them.

Merced County Gets $3.5 Million for Homeless Pandemic Response

Merced County has received $3.5 million to address housing, health care, toiletries and food needs for unsheltered individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

In addition, services are available to those who have symptoms and require isolation based on medical advice, and those that are medically vulnerable and highly susceptible to the virus.

“We are taking a multi-agency approach to engaging with unsheltered homeless individuals and identifying those who need services and medical follow-ups due to COVID-19,” said Yvonnia Brown, director of the Merced County Human Services Agency. “These efforts will not only provide much-needed assistance to those individuals, it will also help contain the spread of COVID-19 within the community at large.”

The funding, originally allocated to address homelessness, was made available through a partnership among the Merced County Continuum of Care, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Human Services Agency and funds provided by state and federal COVID-19 response allocations.

How to Reach Health Department

“We are excited about being a part of a program that is providing basic needs for individuals with some of the greatest need,” said Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp, Director of the Merced County Department of Public Health. “We care about the health and safety of all residents, including the most vulnerable in our community.”

For general information about COVID-19 in Merced County, call the public health department, (209) 381-1180. Information is available in English, Spanish, and Hmong.

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