County Administration Budilding
The San Diego City and County Administration Building is shown on January 12, 2021.

In the wake of an inewsource investigation that uncovered problems at a county-run COVID-19 hotel, officials agreed Monday to pay San Diego State University $140,000 to review the sheltering program’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as to provide best practices moving forward. A final report is due June 1.

San Diego County supervisors ordered the review eight days after inewsource reported gaps in services and a high volume of calls to police at the county’s main isolation hotel, the Crowne Plaza in Mission Valley. A county official provided a copy of the contract to inewsource Tuesday afternoon.

inewsource is an independent and nonprofit journalism organization in San Diego, and relies on grants and philanthropists to support its investigative content. Click here to learn more.

Guests and employees said the county’s contractor, Equus Workforce Solutions, is mismanaging the program, and that staff aren’t prepared to work with most of those who are isolating — people who are homeless and might be struggling with mental illness or substance-use disorders.

The contract calls for a review of the entire hotel sheltering program, including arrival and departure practices, physical and mental health assessments, coordination of services, safety checks, and emergency procedures. The analysis will include identifying barriers to access the program, safety issues and any other concerns that might arise.

SDSU will also provide a range of peer-reviewed literature on innovative approaches and national best practices for similar short-term sheltering programs during the pandemic.

San Diego homeless advocate Amie Zamudio, who has worked to provide hotel rooms to those in need of shelter during the pandemic, said Equus has dropped the ball for the people it is supposed to be serving. 

She said she has referred 25 people to the program, but the company has been unwilling to coordinate services. As a result, she said she is often the one doing case management, organizing doctor visits and managing other tasks to give people what they need.

But with this SDSU review, she said she has hope.

“We need the hotel rooms,” Zamudio said. “We just need a better system of care once inside, and if Equus can’t do the job, then let the people that can do the job, do the job.”

Equus did not respond to an email inewsource sent late Tuesday.

The county’s COVID-19 hotel sheltering program began last March, when county officials took over the Crowne Plaza and other hotels to temporarily house people who needed somewhere to stay. The goal was twofold: to isolate people who test positive or come in contact with the virus, and to protect people who are at risk for developing severe illness.

Last year, inewsource revealed a suicide had occurred at the hotel more than a month after county employees raised alarms about the lack of mental health services. The death wasn’t discovered for five days. 

Two months later, the county signed a $30 million contract with Equus to provide services to people in the hotels.