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The Motel Crush in Homeless World, Sacramento

Homeless people have an interesting relationship with Sacramento (city & county) hotels. Families that have lost their housing, or families that have broken apart – leaving a suddenly-single parent in need of quickly finding housing for her/his-self and the children – use local motels as stopgap solutions and if local government makes a voucher available, an anxious parent can hope to get a motel room for a long stay.

The Sacramento-area hotels in a motel-coupon publication.
A great many homeless men who have disability income use cheap hotels as places to bring a woman and to party and alter their minds with alcohol and other substances. I understand these disability checks commonly come on the first and fifteenth day of the month. When that happens, the morning count of those eager to get into Loaves & Fishes falls off precipitously.

Other people, surfing in the gray space between housed and homeless – who are, say, new at a job or at getting Social Security or just got a lump pension payment – might alternate between shelters and motels while they try to get themselves into a secure housing situation.

But nowadays, everything is topsy-turvy. Golden One Arena is the spark that has sent matters roiling. Construction of the Arena is progressing at a fast pace. As well, street construction and rail for RT needs to be laid in preparation for events at the Arena beginning this fall. Beyond this, an area that extends beyond downtown and the Grid, has plots of land where construction is in the planning stage or underway. Likewise, construction is advancing furiously at a large hotel just north of the Arena, on J Street.

All this construction activity has filled motel and hotels with construction workers through-out our metropolis and has near-fully depleted the availability of unoccupied rooms. And when rooms are available the nightly expense for a room is twice what it was thirty months ago. It’s a sellers’ market.
For a two year period, ending in February, I had a fair deal staying in a room in West Sacramento. For most of that time, I was paying $175 per week, all taxes included, which works out to $25/day.

All motel/hotel rooms aren’t equivalently nice, of course, and the motel where I was staying in West Sac wasn’t the luxury equivalent of most of the hotels pictured in the ad from the HotelCoupons booklet, above, but from my experience I would say that my claim that the price for a motel room has roughly doubled in 30 month is pretty accurate.

For a poor person, the difference in paying $50/day for a motel room as opposed to $25/day is daunting. It pushes people to the street.

I have no complaint with the motels' managers. Theirs is a rough business. Motels may be experiencing good times, currently, that they are eager to take full advantage of by reaping splendid profits – but the local economy will do what it always does, turn right around at some point and make things difficult for them. Capitalism guarantees that matters move from still waters to stormy seas and back again. All this up and down pricing, with potential customers weighing in on finding what motels please them most, serves to find the best price.

BUT, there is an extra problem that has entered the mix. At check-in time, without any warning when you book a room, motels now will ask for a deposit [usually in the amount of $100] to cover any damage that is done to a room. This deposit is not required of everyone at every motel; sometimes just customers that the front-desk person chooses to impose this fee (that is refundable if there is no damage assessment).

This possible-damage assessment may come in several ways. One means of getting a deposit on possible damage I see is that the motel tells you they will charge your "charge card" that they have all the information on if damage occurs. Use of debit cards is then not allowed at some motels for this possible-damage charge.

If it were easy to tell when someone staying at a motel had done damage to a room, I would have sympathy for the new "damage" fee, but this is not something easy. Rooms I have stayed in at Crossland in Rancho Cordova; Good Night Inn in Sacramento; Vagabond Hotel in Sacramento and Red Roof Inn in Rancho all had a few "problems," usually marred furniture or drawers that wouldn't open or close properly. There have also been lamps that were non-functional; cigarette burns on the floors, carpets, bedding and walls, and stains on the wallpaper. These are all instances of pre-existing damage that someone staying in a room might be required to pay for under these new "rules" that motels and hotels have started assessing in concert in the Sacramento area. An agreement that you sign when you are given a room requires that you accept the motel's assessment that there is damage and the dollar-value of the damage that your are charged for.

If this potential damage fee is mainly just a ruse to get people staying at motels to treat the room tenderly such that they don't damage rooms, I'm all for it! I do recognize that the damage I see in motel rooms all comes from maniacs who stay in rooms and cause a mountain of mess.

But since motel rooms are seldom pristine, I think this damage-fee thing has the potential of being a means for motels to charge poor or ungainly people that the motels don't want as a way of suggesting these people take a room somewhere else in the future.


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