Homeless Individuals with Disabilities File Lawsuit Seeking Access to Hotel Rooms Left Empty During COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Release

Homeless Individuals with Disabilities File Lawsuit Seeking Access to Hotel Rooms Left Empty During COVID-19 Pandemic

A homeless man in the streets with a face mask on.

(San Diego, California) Yesterday, on behalf of five homeless individuals with disabilities and an association serving them, Food Not Bombs, Disability Rights California filed a lawsuit against the City of San Diego for failure to provide access to hotel rooms for homeless individuals amid COVID-19. 

Under San Diego’s homeless programs and using state and federal funds, hotel and motel rooms were supposed to be provided to high-risk homeless individuals. The complaint alleges however, that when high-risk homeless individuals sought help, the City withheld available hotel and motel rooms and pushed high-risk homeless individuals into a single, congregate setting at the San Diego Convention Center.

By failing to provide medically appropriate, non-congregate options, San Diego is putting its most vulnerable residents at risk while many hotel and motel rooms remain empty.

“It’s always been hard to live on the streets of San Diego. While I have attempted to seek help, it’s hard to get help from the City. I have congestive heart failure and was recently hospitalized and the only assistance the City offered was to send me to the 1,500-person Convention Center. If I catch coronavirus, my life would be over,” said Christopher Voelp, a named plaintiff in the case. 

Studies show that homeless individuals are not only more likely to become infected with COVID-19, but are two or three times more likely to require hospitalization, two to four times more likely to require ICU care, and twice as likely to die.

The lawsuit asks the court to decide whether the City failed to protect homeless individuals with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Plaintiffs also seek that the City provide motel and hotel rooms for homeless individuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 so that they do not suffer severe complications and or death from the virus.

In addition to disability discrimination, the lawsuit also alleges race discrimination. In San Diego, communities of color experience homelessness at a far higher rate than white individuals. And communities of color are disproportionately adversely impacted by COVID-19. Nationwide, the mortality rate for Black individuals is 2.6 times higher than the rate for white individuals. In San Diego County, the infection rate for Latino or Hispanic individuals is four times that of white individuals.


“While the City swiftly acted to protect the general population from COVID-19, it administered its homeless programs in a manner that placed homeless individuals with disabilities—who are more susceptible to life-threatening complications from COVID-19—at greater risk from contracting the virus. To date, the City has prevented plaintiffs from being able to exercise the very public health measures the City urged on the general population in contradiction to its own policies and CDC guidelines,” says  Parisa Ijadi-Maghsoodi, Senior Attorney, Disability Rights California.

View a copy of the full complaint

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California



Disability Rights California (DRC)

Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit www.disabilityrightsca.org.