The end of COVID-19 hotel accommodation for the homeless raises concerns

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Everyone on the streets knows “Sir Charles”, the slender man with the saxophone, sunglasses, hat and megawatt smile. This week at a gig at the iconic Elbow Room beach bar, he danced with soda in his hand. As bouncers teased him, women clapped and patrons slipped a few dollars into his tip jar.

But after a street musician’s nightlife spell is over, the 63-year-old returns to a luxurious Fort Lauderdale motel, rests his head on a pillow and wonders how many nights he’s left with a roof over his head.

Charles Adams has spent the past three months living in a motel paid for by federal funds aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 by taking homeless residents off the streets. But as hotels reopen to tourists and funding dwindles, thousands of homeless people are being forced out of motels across the country.

Many cities, such as New Orleans, ended their programs months ago amid a lack of funding. Experts warn there are not enough shelter beds, which could mean sending many people back on the streets. In one Vermont community, social workers are offering camping equipment to some homeless people who are no longer eligible to stay at motels at the end of the month.

Cities drew from various federal pots to fund homeless hotels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency extended its funding until September, but the approval process is so difficult that many jurisdictions are not taking advantage of it.

The crisis comes as millions across the country face uncertainty over the end of a federal freeze on most evictions on July 31. The ban kept many people from taking to the streets during the pandemic, yet it artificially kept many units off the market. Shorter long term housing for people who are already homeless.

City officials and advocacy groups are working to secure housing for hotels leaving the homeless, but it remains challenging. Large cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, which hold at least 10,000 and 2,000 people, respectively, are facing a shortage of staff to help with logistics such as necessary ID documents and background checks, said Samantha Butko, senior researcher at the Urban Institute. encounter.

Additional federal resources are coming, including billions of dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but establishing new programs takes time. Experts have warned that it will be delayed.

“Those programs are now in the process of being rolled out, and not all of those resources are in the hands of the communities,” Butko said.

At the Fort Lauderdale Motel, Adams gets free lunch and dinner, clean linens and doesn’t have to look for a place to shower before a gig. A caseworker at the motel, which the city requested not to be named because it is now open to tourists, works on scheduling mental health appointments and other social services.

Fort Lauderdale housed about 130 people at the motel last summer until the program was closed amid a lack of funds. The tents quickly sprang up, and the city restarted the program in April, spending $1.2 million in total.

Adams is one of about 50 homeless people still in the Fort Lauderdale Motel. He was on the road a year before that.

“I didn’t get much sleep. I lost a lot of weight,” he said.

“The motel program was due to end a few weeks ago, but we don’t want to put people back on the street,” city spokeswoman Ashley Dussard said. “We’re having a really hard time finding a place for them to go.”

First priority was given to families. This left single men like Adams. Her caseworker told her that she might have to go to the shelter in a couple of weeks.

Looking at his polished saxophone to his case, Adams shook his head.

“I don’t like it, shit, thief, drug dealer, drug addict,” he said of the shelters. “I can’t be around people like that.”

The colors were still on as usual, but in a rare moment the calm cat admitted that she was worried: “I have no other place to go.”

It’s a tense picture unfolding in cities nationwide for many homeless Americans who found themselves with a static address, often for the first time in years, during COVID-19.

New York City is moving nearly 9,000 homeless people out of hotels and back into traditional shelters, with hotels now filling with tourists.

Keeping the homeless in hotels is far more expensive than mass housing and was always a stop. Some states used federal pandemic money to use hotels as shelters or to convert them into more permanent housing. California and Oregon have already achieved something, and King County, Washington is doing the same.

New Orleans placed 618 homeless people in hotels during the pandemic in a program funded by the city and the state, but that ended in November amid struggles with reimbursement funds.

About 75% were placed in permanent housing, some moved to emergency shelters and 87 returned to the street, joining the growing number of homeless people due to the pandemic, said Martha Kegel, executive director of the Greater New Orleans nonprofit. said. The latest count from January shows about 500 people living on the streets of The Big Easy.

In Berlin, Vermont, David Moran must leave his temporary home at the Hilltop Inn on Wednesday. It’s been a convenient location next to his job at Applebee’s restaurant, and he wants the voucher program to move forward.

“I’m not going to be able to shower regularly, which is not a good thing around food,” he said. “I think there should be more funding available to people who are really trying.”

Ivy Legrand and her boyfriend camped out before finding a room at the motel. Now the 35-year-old says he may have no choice but to stay in the tent again.

Vermont spent $79 million on hotel vouchers, housing up to 2,000 homes on some nights, but the program was not financially sustainable. The state has extended this to 84 days for families with children, the disabled, and other vulnerable, and is giving a $2,500 check to those who are no longer eligible. It is also investing $120 million to expand shelter beds and find more permanent housing.

Legrand, who has struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues, said last year at the motel was a blessing. She and her boyfriend are considering using their checks from the state to invest in a camper.

She said of the motel, “Being here I felt like it softened me, you know.” “I haven’t had to survive outside, and it ain’t easy, you know. It’s hell to be honest.”


Rathke reported from Berlin, Vermont. Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Tom Hays in New York City contributed to this report.


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