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Project Homekey in Salinas is expanding, helping the homeless get back on their feet

SALINAS, Calif. (KION) Last year, the City of Salinas purchased and transformed the Good Nite Inn hotel into permanent supportive housing for people who are chronically homeless. Project Homekey opened its doors to more than 60 people, and soon that number could be going up. 

Read more: City of Salinas announces opening of hotel converted to house homeless

“Homelessness is not a disease. It's not something you look for. It's something that humbles you,” said resident, Maria Morales.

Project Homekey is helping the homeless get off the streets and into a place they can call home. A space many haven’t had in years, or ever in their life. 

"I got a routine I do, make my bed, take a shower, you know the good fundamentals of not being homeless,” mentioned Walter Bickford, who has been homeless on and off for about 29 years.

Last week, the Salinas council members approved $4.5 million to acquire two additional properties for supportive homeless care and another $600,000 for operating expenses. A sizable contribution that will be matched by state funds to provide a better life for the homeless. 

“We're a family of homelessness, but now we're not homeless because God has blessed us with a roof over our head. They gave us a TV, they gave us a bed, showers and they gave us dishes. So we're blessed,” continued Morales.  

Two properties have been flagged, the Sanborn Inn and the Salinas Inn, and that would add an additional 103 rooms, much-needed space for the largest city on the Central Coast, with the largest homeless population. 

“Homelessness is the number one issue facing our county and Salinas by far. So a model like this presents an alternative and it presents a solution that’s working,” Steve McShane, Salinas Councilmember, District 3.

The goal of the program is to minimize barriers to get into permanent housing, providing opportunities for the chronically homeless, more specifically those with underlying health conditions, long-term disabilities, mental health conditions, and those who deal with substances abuse. Most living in the building earn 0% to 30% of the area's median income. 

“If you want to better a city, better the people that are in the city and supply them with what they need,” said resident, Kenneth Omar De La Cruz, while showing KION around his room.

A project, like Homekey, is difficult to run without funding. It's more expensive because of the additional wrap-around services versus a typical affordable housing project.  But, it's a home that’s supporting many needs. 

"There are people who are just experiencing tremendous challenges but are also much different than the next person in line. And when people come into housing, it allows them to start making the changes," Julius Mills-Denti, Program Manager for Step Up in Salinas.  

Most of the rooms at the former Good Nite Inn hotel have been full since opening nearly a year ago. The retention rate is about 98% to 99% successful.

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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.

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