Vagabond and Best Western turned into homeless shelters during Covid-19 crisis

One client per room, no visitors permitted.

Article and photos by Richard Lieberman

The iconic Vagabond Motel has been transformed into a high risk shelter for the homeless population, and it’s next door neighbor Best Western Motel have been contracted by Ventura County to serve as homeless shelter during the duration of the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Chain-link fencing surrounds the sites and entrances are blocked and guarded by armed security services. Tents have been installed in the parking lots for overflow. Signs at all the entrances warn “For the privacy and safety of our residents, this facility is closed to the media.” Another sign posted at all entrances warns residents of the rules they must follow “ One client per room, no visitors permitted, no profanity, no drug use, no alcohol use, no violence, no foul language, no loud noise.”

The Vagabond is owned by Vista Investments which has owned the property since 1997. “We are in it for the long run,” said Zack Cohen, Special Projects Director. Although it appears that once the emergency is over extensive repairs and refurbishment will be needed. “Likely the Vagabond will not be the same when it re-opens, but maybe just maybe it will come back stronger for generations yet to come,” added Cohen. The Vagabond Coffee Shop has remained shuttered for two years now and now it looks there will be an even longer wait for reopening if it ever occurs.

The County of Ventura and the California Department of Public Health has taken steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 virus among vulnerable populations in the county. The county secured housing options at the beginning of the emergency. Local motels in the cities of Ventura, Oxnard, and Newbury Park have been contracted to accommodate this population, including the Vagabond and Best Western both located on Thompson.

Transportation for “at risk” homeless individuals is being coordinated by the county. Medical care, and mental health care are being provided by various county agencies. The shelters are providing housing and care for those considered “high risk” homeless individuals 65+ years old and those having an underlying condition like heart disease, diabetes and other conditions putting those individuals in the “high- risk” category. Persons are medically evaluated before they are cleared for intake into one of the facilities.

“We are trying to place persons in a location near their home community when it is safe to do so,” said Tara Carruth, Program Manager with the Ventura Continuum of Care, and to commit to helping individuals reconnect with that community when it is safe to do so,” added Carruth.

The various county and city agencies have been able to place more than 255 people mostly in motels and continue to accept referrals for people that meet the high-risk category of 65+ years old and those with serious health conditions. Nonprofits throughout the region are providing food, showers, laundry and linkages to housing, shelter and motel placements.


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