COVID-19 PARADIGM SHIFT: Cells to Hotels

Two hotels near the airport here are receiving unusual guests now that coronavirus has eviscerated tourism: homeless people being released from jail.

It’s part of an experiment to provide government-paid hotel rooms to homeless people, including those released from jail under emergency orders, in an effort to limit the spread of the virus both behind bars and in this state’s sprawling homeless encampments.

California and New York appear to be the first states trying it.

“We are doing things that we’ve never done before,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly, the sheriff’s spokesman in Alameda County, which includes Oakland. “The reason for the decision is to save lives—there’s no doubt about that. We’re up against a clock.”

The pandemic has prompted law enforcement officials throughout the country to make difficult decisions to try to prevent outbreaks in crowded jails, where people often cycle in and out as they wait for trial or serve short stints.

Some agencies have released thousands of people early. But when people leave jails, where do they go?