To aid Santa Barbara’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic, health-conscious eatery Moxie Café is partnering with Santa Barbara County officials to provide three meals a day to homeless individuals as part of Project Roomkey.
For more than 10 months now, health experts have emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic is very harmful to the most vulnerable populations, which include the more than 1,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in Santa Barbara.
Many of them are elderly individuals with underlying conditions, which further exacerbates their susceptibility to COVID-19, according to the CDC.
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the rollout of Project Roomkey, an initiative that allocated over $100 million in state funds to provide hotel lodging for homeless individuals over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions.
Since the start of the initiative, Santa Barbara County has provided a safe haven for 146 individuals at a Santa Barbara hotel, according to Kimberly Albers, homeless assistant program manager for Santa Barbara County.
The partnership between Moxie Café and Santa Barbara County was born early on when General Manager Roberty Grimmesey jumped at the chance to help the vulnerable homeless community. With health at the center of Moxie Café’s mission, the cafe has been providing nutritious meals for hotel residents since April 2020.
“Part of Moxie Café’s vision is really to promote healthy living, so we felt that this was in our vision, and now we’re just living our vision,” Mr. Grimessey said.
Each homeless individual in the hotel is provided with their own room and receives three nutrient-rich meals a day from Moxie Café. Since each resident is either 65 and/or has underlying medical conditions, Moxie Café is careful to provide meals tailored to the needs of residents.
“We serve the dietary guidelines every day,” Mr. Grimessey said. “Pretty much everything you can do to nourish someone’s body, we’re doing that through this partnership with the county.”
Nutrient-rich foods are proven to help boost an individual’s immune system, and that is exactly the inspiration behind Moxie Café’s dishes served to residents in the hotel, Mr. Grimmesey said.
Since the rollout of Project Roomkey, Ms. Albers said the homeless community housed in the hotel has expressed a lot of gratitude.
For months prior to the pandemic, many homeless individuals were sleeping on the streets, in vehicles or in congregate homeless shelters across Santa Barbara. But now, as part of Project Roomkey, homeless individuals are able to sleep in their own room and have access to their own private bathroom.
“For many, there can just be this moment of ‘Oh my gosh, I get to sleep when I need to’ and ‘I get to shower when I decide,’ ” Ms. Albers said.
In many cases, private hotel housing has brought a level of stability and dignity for elderly homeless individuals in the Santa Barbara area. Having stability has even led some hotel residents to land jobs during the pandemic or find permanent housing elsewhere.
“Over half of the persons who have exited the hotel have gone into a permanent housing situation so we’re really excited about that,” Ms. Albers said. “(Project Roomkey) is a good model of what can happen when you get someone stable.”