End of COVID-19 hotel accommodation for homeless people raises concerns | WIVT
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Everyone on the street knows “Sir Charles”, the skinny guy with the saxophone, the sunglasses, the felt hat and the megawatt smile. At a concert this week at the iconic Elbo Room beach bar, he danced with a soda in hand as bouncers teased him, ladies cheered, and patrons slipped a few dollars into his tip pot.
But after the magic of a street musician’s nightlife wore off, the 63-year-old returned to a seedy Fort Lauderdale motel, laid his head on a pillow and wondered how many nights he had left with a roof over his head.
Charles Adams has spent the past three months living in a motel paid for with federal money aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 by removing homeless people from the streets. But as hotels reopen to tourists and funding dwindles, tens of thousands of homeless people across the country are being forced out of motels.
Several cities like New Orleans ended their programs months ago due to funding shortages. Experts warn that there are not enough shelter beds, which means many have to be sent back onto the streets. In a community in Vermont, social workers offer camping equipment to some homeless people who can no longer stay in motels at the end of the month.
Cities have tapped into various federal coffers to fund hotels for the homeless. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended its funding until September, but the approval process is so arduous that many jurisdictions are not taking advantage.
The crisis comes as millions of people across the country face uncertainty over the end of the federal freeze on most evictions on July 31. The ban has kept many people from being sent back to the streets during the pandemic, but it has also artificially kept many units out of the market, meaning less long-term housing for those already homeless.
City officials and advocacy groups are working to secure housing for homeless people leaving hotels, but it is difficult. Large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are home to at least 10,000 and 2,000 people respectively, face shortages of staff to help with logistics, such as securing identity documents and background checks, has said Samantha Batko, senior researcher at the Urban Institute.
Additional federal resources are coming in, including tens of billions of dollars from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but new programs are taking time to put in place. Experts warn there will be a lag.
“These programs are being rolled out now, and not all of these resources are available in the communities,” Batko said.
At the Fort Lauderdale motel, Adams receives free lunches and dinners, clean linens, and doesn’t have to look for a place to shower before a concert. A social worker at the motel, whose town asked not to be named because it is now open to tourists, is working on scheduling mental health appointments and other social services.
Fort Lauderdale housed around 130 people in motels last summer until it closed the program due to a lack of funding. Tents quickly sprung up and the city relaunched the program in April, spending a total of $ 1.2 million.
Adams is one of more than 50 homeless people still living at the Fort Lauderdale motel. He had been on the streets for a year before that.
” I did not sleep much. I lost a lot of weight, ”he said.
The motels program was due to end a few weeks ago, “but we don’t want to put people back on the streets,” city spokeswoman Ashley Doussard said. “We’re really having trouble finding places for them to go. “
Families have been given priority. This left single men like Adams. His social worker told him he might have to go to a shelter in a few weeks.
Looking at his polished saxophone in its case, Adams shook his head.
“I don’t like it, dirt, thieves, drug dealers, drug addicts,” he said of the shelters. “I can’t be with people like that.”
The blinds were still on, as always, but in a rare moment, the cool cat admitted he was worried, “I don’t have another place to go.”
It’s a stressful picture unfolding in cities across the country for many homeless Americans who have found themselves with a stable address, often for the first time in years, during COVID-19.
New York City is moving an estimated 9,000 homeless people from hotels to traditional shelters now that hotels are filling up with tourists.
Placing the homeless in hotels is much more expensive than collective housing and has always been a stopgap. Some states have used federal pandemic money to purchase hotels to use as shelters or to convert to more permanent accommodation. California and Oregon have already acquired it, and King County, Washington, is doing the same.
New Orleans hosted 618 homeless people in hotels during the pandemic as part of a city-state-funded program, but it ended in November amid difficulties with funding the reimbursement.
About 75% were placed in permanent housing, some went to emergency shelters and 87 returned to the streets, joining a growing number of homeless people caused by the pandemic, said Martha Kegel, executive director of the non-profit association UNITY of Greater New Orleans. The last count for January showed nearly 500 people living on the streets of The Big Easy.
In Berlin, Vermont, David Moran will have to leave his temporary home at the Hilltop Inn on Wednesday. It was a convenient place next to his job at an Applebee’s restaurant, and he wants the voucher program to be extended.
“I won’t be able to shower regularly, which is not a good thing around food,” he said. “I think there should be more funds available for people who are really trying.”
Ivy LeGrand and her boyfriend camped outside before they got a room at the motel. Today, the 35-year-old says he may have no choice but to live in a tent again.
Vermont spent $ 79 million on hotel vouchers, housing up to 2,000 households on some nights, but the program was not financially sustainable. The state has extended it by 84 days for families with children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable people, and is giving out checks for $ 2,500 to those no longer eligible. It is also investing $ 120 million to expand shelter beds and find more permanent housing.
The past year at the motel has been a blessing, said LeGrand, who struggles with mental health and addiction issues. She and her boyfriend plan to use their state checks to invest in a motorhome.
“Being here, I felt like it softened me up, you know,” she said of the motel. “I didn’t have to survive on the outside, and it’s just not easy, you know. It’s hell to be honest.
Rathke reported from Berlin, Vermont. Associated Press editors Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.