January 15, 2021

A place to call home

A $25M Kaiser Permanente grant will provide support for up to 1,000 new permanent housing units for formerly homeless people in California.

Patricia Maes is one of more than 70 formerly homeless people who is now housed at a motel in San Jose.

When the COVID-19 virus began spreading last spring, 63-year-old Patricia Maes was living outside and sleeping near a park — and she was going through treatment for breast cancer.

The San Jose, California, native was terrified she would catch the virus on the street and die. People with cancer are at greater risk for serious complications from COVID-19. So, when Maes called a hotline set up by the City of San José and Santa Clara County, she was offered a room right away at a motel near the San Jose airport.

“They give us meals here, and I’m eating better and starting to gain back some of the weight I lost from chemo,” Maes said. “I can lock the door, know that I’m safe, and I don’t have to sleep with one eye open. This place is helping me build my health back, one day at a time.”

Maes received housing through a California state program that enables cities and counties to provide temporary housing for medically vulnerable homeless people in hotels and dormitories during the pandemic. Since then, another state program called Project Homekey awarded the City of San José funds to purchase the former Best Western motel and transform it into 76 permanent supportive-housing units for homeless people.

Critical, game-changing funding

In December 2020, Kaiser Permanente followed through on a pledge to invest $25 million to help California combat homelessness. The funding will support Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing nonprofit, as it works with the state to provide operating subsidies, wraparound services, and technical assistance for 22 Project Homekey properties, including the San Jose motel that Pat Maes now calls home.

“The Kaiser Permanente funding is a game changer for putting vulnerable Californians on a pathway to safe, affordable, and healthy homes,” said James Yelen, a program director for Enterprise Community Partners in Northern California. “It will pay for services such as property management and upkeep, case management for residents, and food services for up to 2 years.”

The funding will support up to 1,000 new permanent housing units across the state from San Bernardino to Sacramento. The properties will house a range of formerly homeless populations, including families, veterans, and people living with HIV.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the critical connection between housing and health,” said John Vu, Kaiser Permanente’s national vice president for Community Health. “Project Homekey presents a unique opportunity for California to rapidly create permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, and that will save lives. We are proud to support this work.”

Accomplishing the impossible

In 2020, California primarily funded Project Homekey projects using federal coronavirus relief dollars. Across the state, the projects will provide more than 6,000 housing units for people experiencing homelessness.

“In a matter of months and in the midst of a pandemic, we did what many said was impossible,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom stated in a recent press release.

In Orange County, Kaiser Permanente funding will help support operations for 132 Project Homekey units at 2 properties: the Stanton Inn and the Tahiti Motel.

“This funding enables us to make the Homekey program work,” said Jason Austin, director of care coordination for Orange County. “2020 was about bringing everyone to the table to get through the COVID crisis. I hope we can continue to be creative and innovative in seeking ways to end homelessness.”