La Quinta Inn in Berkeley is slated to be an isolation site for homeless individuals beginning in May. Image: Google Street View

City and county officials are setting up a new isolation site at the 113-bed LaQuinta Inn on University Avenue for homeless individuals who appear to be healthy, Berkeley’s city manager reported Wednesday evening.

Unhoused people who have no symptoms and have not tested positive for COVID-19 will have access to the property, according to an email City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley sent to Berkeley City Council members shortly before 7 p.m. about the city’s recent coronavirus efforts. The hotel is located at 920 University Ave., between Seventh and Eighth streets in West Berkeley.

“This hotel would be made available for homeless people in Alameda County, with an emphasis on Berkeley,” Williams-Ridley wrote. “The County will lease and pay for the hotel and the City of Berkeley will help support operations and medical intake.”

The new site will operate under the moniker “North County Safer Ground” as part of the state’s Project Roomkey initiative to open thousands of hotel rooms to medically vulnerable people who have no permanent housing. The county effort launched in early April with two Oakland hotels: Operation Comfort for unsheltered people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and Operation Safer Ground for those considered high risk.

“There is still a lot to work out, but our hope is to have the hotel occupied in early May,” the city manager told council members Wednesday evening.

The Berkeley hotel would be the third known site in Alameda County for unsheltered individuals. But other county sites are also in the works, the city said Wednesday night.

Wednesday’s announcement is only the latest step Berkeley has taken in recent months to attempt to meet some of the needs of people living outside. Last week, city staff identified 46 people in its homeless shelters who were considered particularly vulnerable to a COVID-19 infection, the city manager wrote Wednesday. Of those, 22 accepted the initial offer to move to Project Roomkey hotels in Oakland. Nine other people later agreed to move, the city manager wrote.

Earlier this month, Williams-Ridley said during a town hall event that Berkeley was working to secure up to 200 hotel rooms in the city for “our most vulnerable.” At that time, she said Berkeley had access to more than 400 rooms outside the city as part of the Alameda County program.

Once the county facilities are full, Berkeley has 18 trailers and a home with four bedrooms in West Berkeley set up to house people who are medically fragile or who have the virus. No one has moved into those facilities yet, the city said Wednesday night.

Berkeley is also planning to open a new temporary shelter at 1730 Oregon St., the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Services Center, to house around 30 people as part of efforts to thin occupancy in other shelters in town to reduce the chances that COVID-19 could spread.

This week, Berkeley closed its Pathways homeless shelter because one resident who had stayed there later tested positive for COVID-19 after moving to an Oakland hotel.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...