Buying Hotels for People who are Homeless

When our community considers the costs associated with Sonoma County’s use of California’s Project Home Key to permanently house people who are homeless we can look at costs spent and costs avoided. Ultimately the plan is for the net value to be positive.

Many people who daily are completing acts of kindness are rightfully concerned. Everything takes more time than people who are suffering can wait.

The project I describe here will help just 100 of the over 3,000 people who have the housing need. Each of us must ask if we should do nothing because we can’t do everything.

Must we deride people in their addiction because their adverse childhood and adult experiences made them turn to the false comfort of drugs?

The challenge for both the advocates and the critics is to do what each person can do to achieve what we all want => no problems of homelessness.

The December 27, 2020 Tyler Silvy article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrats reports that the buildings which were the Azura Motel and the Sebastopol Inn, cost a total of $14.2 million (Azura $8 M and Sebastopol Inn $6.2 million). The net costs are reported as $27 million for 75 housing units. So the cost difference must be the costs of operation and the cost to convert the units to Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)

To be considered PSH under federal guidelines each unit must have a kitchenette and be accessible. Until that time the rooms are part of the Non Congregate Shelter (NCS) system the State and County put in place during the COVID-19 Pandemic to protect elders and other vulnerable and health compromised people who are homeless. This was essential because ordinary shelters for people who are homeless had to cut capacity in half to achieve social distancing.

The fact that California took this opportunity to buy motels and other buildings created an incredibly quick opportunity to buy local buildings. Ordinary affordable housing project take up to 13 years and more to achieve. This project when completed will take (hopefully) under 2 years.

For those who rightfully recognize that $27 million is a lot of money, it may be useful to compare these costs to regular affordable housing costs. $27 million divided by 75 is $360,000 per unit. Ordinary affordable housing units cost $500,000 per unit today in Sonoma County. Thus at 76% of the normal cost, we are creating a door and a pillow for nearly 100 people when double occupancy is considered. (My earlier post did not have all these figures).

In a 2016 local survey it was clear that people in Sonoma County agree that helping folks is good for those who have had misfortunes so severe that they have NO place to live.

The Homeless Services system, guided by the Continuum of Care Board, and the Health Department via the Behavioral Health division, have focused for several years on treating people who are the most vulnerable.

There are people in our community who assume because someone is paid, or works for the government, they must be greedy. The truth and the complexity are real, but assumptions such as this do not improve anything. The paid staff and volunteers in numerous efforts are not greedy; they genuinely know how to help and can do it with community support. The passage of the recent Mental health tax once again proved our voters believe this is true.

Effective community collaboration, transparency, and accountability are where the answers reside to help the vulnerable people and stop wasting money on unneeded Emergency room visits, unnecessary arrests and jail time, and a myriad of other ills.

The State of California created Whole Person Care in strategic recognition of the needs of people.

The State website states:
“The overarching goal of the Whole Person Care (WPC) Pilots is the coordination of health, behavioral health, and social services, as applicable, in a patient-centered manner with the goals of improved beneficiary health and wellbeing through more efficient and effective use of resources. WPC Pilots will provide an option to a county, a city and county, a health or hospital authority, or a consortium of any of the above entities serving a county or region consisting of more than one county, or a health authority, to receive support to integrate care for a particularly vulnerable group of Medi-Cal beneficiaries who have been identified as high users of multiple systems and continue to have poor health outcomes. Through collaborative leadership and systematic coordination among public and private entities, WPC Pilot entities will identify target populations, share data between systems, coordinate care real time, and evaluate individual and population progress – all with the goal of providing comprehensive coordinated care for the beneficiary resulting in better health outcomes.”

Sonoma County has implemented Whole Person Care and other sophisticated programs; when enough is communicated about them, community members can find a place to help. The people who serve in these helping roles are highly competent and genuinely compassionate.

The related information sharing, which I wrote about earlier, holds great potential to be effective. It is hoped and expected that such efforts will stop some human suffering and save the huge expenses associated with excess health care and jail usage. We should have better data within a few years.

And, in a few months, some of the most vulnerable people will be living in their own permanent homes.

Think about what you can do to help.

For a thorough review of the history of the homeless response

Advocacy efforts today see: Homeless Action!.net

Sonoma Acts of Kindness (private FB group)

The Squeaky Wheel Bicycle Coalition

Sonoma County Private Non-Profit Providers of Services


Wallace House, Cloverdale

Reach for Home, Healdsburg

West County Community Services

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

The Committee on the Shelterless (COTS)

SHARE Sonoma County

Sonoma Overnight Support

Sonoma Applied Village Services


Some other resources:
Housing The Homeless Is Actually Saving LA Money: LAist

WPC report
WPC UCLA Evaluation Enrollment Report PY4 Annual (

Whole Person Care (WPC) Pilot Program Challenges and Successes: January 2017-December 2019

Not Homeless focused but considering the needs of elders
SCAN Person Centered Care
business_case_for_pcc_full_report_june_2016.pdf (