Swapping homes for hotels

July 16, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – Some Americans are swapping homes for motels as the ranks of the homeless swell during the recession, crowding out shelters and forcing cities and states across the country to find new types of housing.

In Massachusetts, a record number of families are being put up in motels due to high unemployment and the rising number of homes going into foreclosure, costing taxpayers $2 million per month but providing a lifeline for desperate families.

“I feel like this has saved my life,” said Tarya Seagraves-Quee, a 37-year-old former nurse.

(Click on her picture above for a slideshow on Americans forced to live hotels during the recession)

Seagraves-Quee has lived in a cramped one-bedroom suite in a hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with three of her four children for nearly two months. “I’m managing the best way possible. I’ve learned to make things in the microwave oven.”

In Massachusetts, homeless shelters are at capacity. State law requires temporary accommodation for those without shelter, leading authorities to place 830 families, including 1,125 children, in 39 motels — an unprecedented number.

“This truly is the highest we have ever seen it,” said Nancy Paladino, director of the family team for the Boston Health Care for the Homeless.

Other cities are noticing a similar trend. In Indianapolis, Indiana, overcrowded homeless shelters are turning families away, forcing growing numbers to seek vouchers for hotels provided by nonprofit groups such as United Way.

“Anecdotally, it’s increased,” said Michael Hurst, director of the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention Indianapolis. The advocacy group started to compile statistics on the number of homeless families living in hotels this year after noticing signs of an increase.

“The hotel owners will tell you it has increased. The homeless service providers and the school officials will say we know there are more people living in hotels and putting their kids in school because that is the address they are giving us.”

(Click on the video below for an audio slideshow about the Seagraves-Quee family by photographer Brian Snyder. It is narrated by Tarya Seagraves-Quee, who is also a gospel singer)

(Click here for more on Tarya Seagraves-Quee)


In the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, the large Wilson family turned to a budget motel as a weeklong transition between a homeless shelter and an apartment.

“Each step we’re going it’s just a stepping stone,” said 42-year-old Frederick Wilson as he sat with his wife, Annette, in a one-bedroom suite they share with four of the six children in their care, including a grandchild.

Called by God, they said, to move from Minnesota to Texas, the family has rapidly made a shift from homeless status to paid employment. Annette has just landed a job as a bus driver, while Frederick said he will work in an office that offers clerical support to Medicaid patients.

They spent two-and-a-half weeks in a homeless shelter in Dallas and were preparing to move into an apartment from the motel. The Urban League, an organization that helps struggling African Americans, is paying the $204 cost of their suite, which does not include sheets, pillows or toilet paper.

(Click on the video below for an audio slideshow about the Wilson family by photographer Jessica Rinaldi, narrated by the Wilsons)

(Click here for an update on the Wilson family)

In Phoenix, demand for emergency accommodation is swamping available services as the recession and spiraling foreclosures turn even more families out of their homes.

One nonprofit bought two former hotels — a Days Inn and a Super 8 — in a gritty downtown neighborhood to provide emergency accommodation for homeless and low income families. When the $23 million project is finished in September, it will be able to house 156 families, up from 112 now.

“We’ve seen a whole new subset of homeless families due to job loss and foreclosures, and our waiting list has doubled in the past year,” said Nichole Barnes, chief fund development officer of the UMOM New Day Centers.

“Some were previous homeowners. Due to the housing market out here, they’d got into a mortgage with a flexible interest rate. Some were working full time, but lost their jobs, went through their savings trying to save their home, and then found themselves without a home due to foreclosure,” she said.


In many cities, foreclosures are a big part of a spike in homeless and rise in families living in hotels or motels.

Nearly 80 percent of homeless services providers and advocacy agencies say at least some clients became homeless as a result of a foreclosure, according to a joint report by four of the largest U.S. homeless advocacy groups.

Staying with family or friends and in emergency shelters were the most common post-foreclosure living conditions, followed by hotels or motels, according to the June report.

“In many areas shelters are now completely full, so the only option to keep their families together is to rent a motel room for $200 a week. That’s pretty standard for many who lost their homes to foreclosure,” said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Unlike Massachusetts, most states do not pick up the tab. “People are spending 80 percent of their total income on hotels,” he said. “And food costs are higher because they can’t cook.”

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Seagraves-Quee found refuge at a budget hotel after losing her job in Georgia more than a year ago and going without health care for 10 months. She suffers from multiple sclerosis, anemia and lupus, and was recently found to have two cancer spots on her breast. Two of her children, aged 16 and 6, are autistic.

She spent $700 — almost all her savings — on plane tickets to Boston, where she had relatives. Soon the family was in a shelter.

Local authorities later moved her to the hotel and Seagraves-Quee was given medical treatment as part of a program carried out by Boston Health Care for the Homeless.

“Right now, I am picking up from where I left off in Georgia 10 months ago. When I got here I was in really bad health,” she said. “I’ve heard some people say ‘Oh that is a ghetto shelter.’ But to me it’s a wonderful place.”

(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Editing by Doina Chiacu. Cambridge photos and audio slideshow by Brian Synder, Dallas photos and audio slideshow by Jessica Rinaldi)


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I strongly believe that this is a disgrace. Not only Banks have been bailed out by the tax payer’s money. They even have the audacity to force the same tax payers out of their homes and foreclose homes. Adding more foreclosed homes to the already huge number. This will push house prices down further making it impossible for the Banks to get there money back any way. Why not let families carry on to live in their own home and get some sort of arrangement were both Banks, Government and Individuals involved to agree on a plan. Such as Government make capital payment to Banks every month and Banks to give up on the Interest charge until individuals manage to find a job. This way Banks are getting their money back on the home, Government are helping families without paying for them at Motels or other shelters. Families are not displaced. House prices are pushed down further. Everyone is a winner then.

Posted by Mehenna | Report as abusive

Hmm? Seems to me Mehenna that HIGH home prices have been a major part of the economic trouble. So, it would seem to me that dropping the price of houses should solve some of the trouble. Heck, since the government has been implementing price controls over other segments of the economy, why not the price of housing? At least for a little while. There is no real reason people should be allowed to live in, wear out, tear up, and otherwise abuse a house, and then expect to be able to double or triple their money. Also, county and state governments should decouple their interest in high house prices. The federal gov’t should not allow any kind of tax deductions related to housing and capital gains. So far I’ve only seen the government helping those very people and institutions that have vested interest in high house prices.

Posted by bill macon | Report as abusive

I agree. Outplacement is a very valuable service companies can provide to exiting employees. Presented correctly, outplacement will help to reduce unemployment claims, the company’s reputation in the market, and as stated the time that it takes an employee to find their next position.
IT solution

Posted by rakesh | Report as abusive

wow what a nice post i like , i really astonished from your post.
keep writing more

Posted by aron.h | Report as abusive

I know what it is like to be homeless. I spent four months in a homeless shelter. I do not
use alcohol or drugs. I am educated. I have two degrees in two different technical fields.
I dare say more skills 90% of most of the people out there. I graduated with a 3.7 GPA in two of the toughest subjects there are. I have no medical condition. I am telling you this is not to brag. But to demonstrate that there are many educated people that are homeless. All it takes is unemployment. Wise up people. Especially, you hot shot
MS grad looking for work. The present depression is not about education.

Posted by Joe Shimms | Report as abusive