Laguna Woods seniors win protest against temporarily housing homeless COVID-19 patients at nearby Ayres Hotel

The Ayres Hotel (Christian Aguilar-Garcia/Lariat)

A recently enacted initiative known as Project Roomkey would serve to repurpose up to 15,000 hotel rooms across the state of California for the goal of housing some of the most at-risk populations from COVID-19 namely; the homeless and the medically vulnerable.

On April 3, Governor Gavin Newsom of California announced that FEMA approval had been secured in order to provide shelter for the tens of thousands of people across the state who experience an increased risk of becoming afflicted with and spreading the Coronavirus. However, as hotels across the state reach agreements to supply shelter for these individuals the initiative is not without its detractors, many of whom are taking to the streets to protest in response to the eminent threat they say has Laguna Woods officials ‘deeply concerned’.

“It feels like they aren’t considering who’s most at risk in this situation,” says Laguna Woods resident R. Horner. “My concern is that there’s a population of elderly here that are more in danger than others.”

Initially, the deal to house the homeless was made between the County of Orange and the Ayres Hotel. Plans included the conversion of the 138-bed hotel to accommodate and isolate potential cases of COVID-19 and prevent the spread of Coronavirus as much as possible in an effort to reduce the strain at local hospitals. Through the usage of dedicated support teams and essential services such as security, custodial, medical and laundry staff. Project Roomkey sought to support local efforts to contain the spread of Coronavirus as needed.

“You run into the idea of wanting to help whoever needs help,” says nurse G. Pacheco. “When it comes down to it, these are people who need help and we happen to have ways of getting them off the street and reducing the potential for infection.”

However, many of the residents of Laguna Woods and surrounding cities refuse to believe that this is a good idea as a series of protests were held denouncing the actions taken by the County of Orange. The main argument being that since Laguna Woods is home to one of the largest senior citizen populations in the state, placing the at-risk homeless population within the vicinity of the gated community would prove hazardous to the health of the senior population.

While the community in question is in fact gated and currently, there exists a stay-at-home order for citizens over the age of 65 in California, residents of the Laguna Woods Village say that no amount of negotiation could change their minds on the issue. As a result, plans to use the Ayres Hotel were ultimately scrapped following the threat of lawsuit and public outcry. However, as the need for assistance continues to be a pressing issue for the homeless, plans to instead use the Laguna Hills Inn as a location for housing have been announced. Currently, Laguna Hills officials are considering seeking legal action to block the housing and care facility from coming to fruition.