Living in dodgy motels is one step above homelessness

The housing ladder has many levels, and the first step above homelessness and shelter life is to live in cheap and often unsafe motels.

life_without_entitlementEveryone wants to move up to better housing accommodations. Despite a few frugal outliers, most people spend most of their lives enjoying the highest quality of housing they can afford.

Years ago I toured the Tijuana subdivisions of URBI. One of the homes was a 288 SF single-family detached home — basically a cozy, free-standing two-car garage. When I asked one of our guides who bought such a house, he beamed with pride and said the buyers were generally families moving out of the squalor of the shanties.

These new homeowners were thankful to have working with maitland plumber, solid walls, and climate control. That tiny home was a huge improvement over what they moved out of. What some view as a dump, others view as a palace.

My wife relayed to me a conversation she had with a woman lamenting her housing plight: Her family was outgrowing their Shady Canyon home. With three children, their 4.000 SF 5 bedroom house no longer met their needs. She wasn’t bragging or being pretentious, she was relaying the truth of her situation as she saw it. Her house, a house we viewed as a dream home, was a house she viewed as substandard.Grasping_For_More

No matter your station in life, it’s human nature to want more.

There are places on earth where there is no housing entitlement. Even the US has a problem with homelessness and people living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. However, the homeless here have access to shelters and other forms of assistance. In some countries, there is little or no assistance either public or private to help out those in need.

The most callous free-market advocates would suggest that people should fear homelessness and destitution so they will be motivated to work and produce goods and services for the benefit of society. I noted that the fear of homelessness is the basis of America’s economic system. It may make for principled debate, but when faced with the reality of grinding poverty, most people conclude something should be done to provide a minimal level of safe and sanitary housing.

Unfortunately for those caught in poverty, the public and private institutions that define this minimum standard vary considerably across the world, and if you’re poor in an area where the minimum standard is very low, your quality of life is near zero.

The lowest rung on the property ladder here in the United States is homelessness, living in a box and sleeping on the street. The next rung up the ladder is homeless shelters where they find a safe and habitable place to sleep. For those who rise above homelessness, the next rung on the property ladder is living indefinitely in dodgy motels.

My time in motel hell: Scenes from America’s housing crisis

by Donnell Alexander, August 10, 2015

… Around lots like that one you’ll find everything you need to know — maybe not anything you want to know — about those who are reduced to living in rooms with doors that open to car exhaust. Bedbug bites are far from the worst outcome in this, one of the lowest rungs of housing insecurity, just steps away from homelessness.


Watch the parking lots and you will see, first, that the numbers infrequently add up. A front desk worker might tell you that room 219 — top floor, dead center — sleeps two. But as many as eight members of an evicted family or eight homeless friends who’ve pooled funds could pop out, uncorked as though sprung from a broke-down clown car.

Interspersed among the sleep-deprived “normal” guests whose trek to grandma’s house turned into an overnight trip, is that pacing cam girl, her hair dyed four colors so as to attract more page views on The seasonal cannabis field workers are registered as well, and on the right night you might find that single dad with his severely autistic teen son.

When I visited that project in Tijuana, our guides also took us to visit a shantytown where many of their buyers came from. As I looked at the filth and grinding poverty, I imagined what it would be like for me, trying to support a family with a special needs child, in that environment. It shook me to my core, and it made me realize how thankful I am to be where I am.


Don’t just watch the guests — keep an eye on their cars, too. Between parking pull ups and disheveled check-out time exits, all is told. Reality is that they “leave the light on for you,” as the motel chain’s corporate advertising promises, mostly to keep the open drug abuse and surreptitious fellatio to a minimum.

This writer is fantastic considering where she’s writing from. I recommend the full article.danielle-earlsmaller

Two days a month Stephanie and her husband treat themselves to nights here, a respite from 28 or so days vulnerable to the elements. After a few minutes collecting woes similar to so many motel regulars — bad breaks and worse decision making — I did that thing I’ve picked up from public radio gigs, the one where you ask the subject to say their name and how they’d best be described.

“My name is Stephanie,” she said into my recorder, her voice breaking, “and I’m a lost soul right now.

Across the river in Portland, Oregon, a magical city with a profound housing problem, I spent two months earlier this year on the brink of living on the street.

I’d been through other rough patches in which Southern California motels functioned as life preservers while I was at sea with three children, cranking out copy and subsisting on fast food. The Pasadena inn whose gang activity was so intense I wouldn’t let the kids get a vending machine treat after dark. The West Hollywood hooker motel I hauled the trio off to after a summer spat with my then-partner.

I can imagine this was the plight of many who lost their homes during the housing bust. Since subprime loans blew up first, lenders foreclosed on them, and since they were subprime, many were also much closer to the bottom of the housing ladder, and when they fell, many of them likely fell as hard as Stephanie above.


Famously dangerous hotbeds of sketchiness — in part because of their highway accessibility — motels harbor the quasi-homeless seemingly as often as they serve as antidotes to driving off the road for the sleep-deprived. Some regulars have vouchers from local governments. Most simply fell behind on rent or, as in Stephanie’s case, a mortgage.


In motel parking areas, kids at play dodge motorists who “come into the lot like a bat out hell,” as a mother from Idaho told me, describing a scene from Portland’s Goose Hollow section.

While a parking lot as makeshift play place is far from optimal, it’s preferable to being cooped up in front of the cathode ray TV tubes found in most rooms.

I grew up playing across the neighbors’ back yards, friends with the neighbors’ children. We would play until our mothers would call us to dinner by yelling out the back door. That’s a different life experience than someone who grew up in a motel parking lot dodging drunk-driving drug dealers.rented_room

My children and I haven’t spent sustained periods in motor hotels. But my sister and her youngest son are not so lucky. …

When pride got in my sister’s way, she and her then-17-year-old boy got on the highway to Troutdale and a $39 room.

At first, the stay was peaceful.

Then night fell.

The African kids who played in parking spaces went back indoors when the sun went down. Meth heads took their place. Motel guests of every color fought and cursed and visited that vintage Lincoln Continental. Truck drivers and motel guests alike hopped into the car’s front seat, then popped out just as fast.

Throughout the night, screams erupted and fights over who took most of the dope erupted. (“You think you’re slick, motherfucker!”)

Gaye says she punched up 911 on her phone nearly nightly. “If you do not get the police over here to deal with the people next door, someone is going to be dead,” she said. “I don’t know what is going on over there, but someone is getting their ass whupped.”

option_arm_encounterThe worst part about living in this environment is the constant threat of violence.

“… I needed a break,” Stephanie says. As she delves into her breakfast time explanation of how motels are an oasis, her husband approaches.He looks like Waylon Jennings with a hardcore meth jones. As I explain why I’m questioning his wife the man sucks the last of his joint right down to his fingertips. My source’s husband shakes his head, then walks away.

Most people living in these conditions do so as a consequence of the decisions they made. The saddest part is the children who must live this way, not due to their bad decisions, but the bad decisions of their parents. The children deserve better.ramdy_quaid

Stephanie is so weathered, she appears to have been on the streets of Washington state since the first Bush presidency. It’s easy to buy her perspective that two floors of artless, right-angled shelter is a kind of oasis.

“You can sleep on something soft. You get air conditioning. You don’t have to do any housework. But there’s the monotony of it — you’re living out of suitcases,” Stephanie continues. “So far here though? No big deal. The neighbors above us are… very busy. But that’s cool.”

The motel over in Hazel Dell, the one she no longer goes to for respite, now that’s a problem. Old and decrepit. Junkies everywhere. Used to be a nice place. The cops in Vancouver “really don’t like homeless people,” Stephanie says.


It’s not just the fine fuzz of Washington that despise the homeless — just about none of us are really feeling them. It takes Herculean effort to ensure that their ugliness remains out of our sight lines.

Don’t see ya, sho ’nuff wouldn’t want to be ya.

I wish I could offer a solution to the problems of homelessness and poverty, but there are no simple fixes. We tried giving people money, but welfare didn’t solve the problem. Our makeshift system of publicly and privately funded homeless shelters is the first line of defense on what’s a much larger problem.

The next step up the housing ladder is entry into a government program like Section 8, but the program is costly, and it creates other problems. The demand for government assistance greatly outstrips the supply, so many people waiting for assistance end up living the dodgy motel life.

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