When not cleaning pools, 68-year-old Scott Pearson stays at the Motel 6 in Campbell, marking the first time in five years of homelessness he’s had temporary housing—except for the time he spent five months recovering from sepsis.
His room was afforded to him as part of the state’s Project Roomkey initiative to house seniors and people with underlying health conditions during the pandemic, but he just found out he’s about to lose the closest thing to a home he’s had in years.
Instead, he was told he'll be moved to FEMA trailers, where he’ll share common areas with others. He won’t have his own mini-fridge or microwave anymore, which means he’ll need to mingle with more people for his basic needs, like eating.
“The motel room is perfect,” Pearson said. “This is all I need to be safe.”
In his work, Pearson has been able to stay far away from infectious people.
Since Covid-19 hit the U.S. and dug its spikes into Santa Clara County, making it a hotbed at the start of the pandemic, Pearson stays outside and his clients stay safely indoors.
“If they're home, they'll just knock on the window and wave, that's it,” he said. “The only thing I come in contact with are dogs.”
That’s ideal for Pearson, who has several underlying health problems, including a heart condition. His former primary care doctor was glad to hear he’d moved into the Motel 6 in Campbell, as he would likely not survive contracting Covid-19.
Pearson said the motel room has changed his life.
Project Homekey is the first program of its kind in the nation. Since the start of the pandemic the initiative has turned 16,000 hotel and motel rooms across 55 counties and tribal areas into housing for 22,300 people at risk of suffering severe complications if they were to contract the novel coronavirus.
And despite the messages he says he's been getting about having to move, Pearson hasn't heard about whether the move is still on after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this past week that FEMA funds were allocated to sustain and expand initiatives like Project Roomkey.
Pearson has been at the Motel 6 since June, and is hoping that new funding will let him stay there until the pandemic passes. Before, he was living out of his van, and doesn’t have a caseworker to advocate for him.
Santa Clara County got $2.8 million of the FEMA dollars to continue funding initiatives like Project Roomkey, as well as other programs for healthcare workers, farmworkers and those leaving jail or prison who have been exposed to the virus.
But the goal for Project Roomkey specifically is to give homeless seniors and chronically ill people a safe place to stay during the pandemic before transitioning to permanent housing. What that will look like in the coming months remains to be seen.
“I feel like a condemned criminal waiting for the governor to issue a stay,” Pearson said.