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City, county to team up on homeless housing

City of Placerville and El Dorado County leaders propose to work together toward a transitional housing project aimed at possibly extending Project Roomkey. While no specified site has been selected, nor is it required to be eligible, the due date for state Community Development Block Grant monies, which would offset the cost of acquisition and rehabilitation of property, is just weeks away.

Project Roomkey is a collaborative government program launched in April 2020 at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to mitigate hospital surge by temporarily housing in motels or hotels homeless individuals considered at-risk of more severe COVID-19 symptoms. The Mountain Democrat reported last July Project Roomkey had housed approximately 40 homeless individuals in Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe hotel rooms.

City of Placerville Director of Development Services Pierre Rivas delivered a report outlining grant fund availability and the proposed process moving forward in the joint effort at the April 13 City Council meeting. The county could request a total of $1,829,794 and the city of Placerville $421,363 from three rounds of funding opportunities. County staff would submit the joint application and act as the lead agency in the application and subsequent joint project. As lead agency the county would have the responsibility of administering the agreement and state reporting requirements.

“This project would assist in reducing the number of unsheltered homeless encampments both in the county and in the city,” said Rivas.

El Dorado County Director of Health and Human Services Don Semon clarified that all projects moving forward will include collaboration with city staff on potential locations or other matters.

“The city would be on the ground floor of the decision-making process,” said Semon, adding that collaboration between the city and county would dictate the success of the project.

Placerville City Council member Michael Saragosa expressed a hope that the Upper Room Dining Hall be included in the process and be in collaboration to offer services. He also noted recent growth of the homeless encampment across from the Upper Room.

“The property will dictate a major focus of the program,” said Semon. He explained that if the property has working kitchenettes in the rooms, for instance, that would lend itself to a more permanent housing solution, whereas a property without those facilities might be suited for a transitional housing scenario.

After those factors are identified a request for proposals for services would be released and the Upper Room, which already provides food services at a current Roomkey property, would be able to apply and work with the program.

Public comment was largely in support of the project, barring questions regarding the location of the project, potential future costs to taxpayers and concern over the “unknown factors” of the plan.

Vice Mayor Kara Taylor addressed the concern there were unknown factors. “The details are pretty light on what this money would actually be used for,” she said, aknowledging the years and resources that have been spent toward finding solutions to the homeless problem and that she thought Placerville is in a crisis situation.

“We want to make sure we have the bandwidth to pull a program like this off,” said Semon. “We don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin.

“It seems like the cart is a little before the horse because the due date is May 7,” said Semon. “The state understands that many jurisdictions don’t have a property that has been identified, appraised, negotiated and have a contract with.”

He explained that the state is being flexible on the property location, allowing jurisdictions to submit for these funds while still in that process.

The resolution passed unanimously and a memorandum of understanding between the county and the city will return to City Council for final approval April 27.

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