A Kentucky Mayor Blocked 2 Non-Profits From Renting Hotel Rooms for Homeless People Who Have Nowhere To Shelter in Place

Not even the coronavirus pandemic can stop local governments' NIMBYism.


A Kentucky mayor has told a local hotel that it's not to rent rooms to two housing organizations trying to shelter the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the town's zoning code doesn't allow for transitional housing at the temporary lodging facility.

"The easy answer is that this is outside of the current zoning code and uses such as 'transitional housing' has its own definition," Florence, Kentucky, Mayor Diane Whalen told the Lexington Herald-Leader of a deal that two non-profits, Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky and Welcome House, had struck with the SpringHill Suites to rent out rooms for 40 people who had been staying temporarily at a nearby convention center.

The convention center had agreed to host these people for only 15 days, so Welcome House and the Emergency Shelter arranged to rent rooms at the SpringHill Suites, where the people they care for would have access to showers and be better able to isolate themselves in their own rooms, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.

After finding out about the arrangement, Whelan reportedly asked the hotel to rescind its offer to rent rooms to the two homeless organizations, which it did.

"After speaking with Mayor Whalen, there are concerns of zoning violations for the hotel. And furthermore, the safety of first responders and the citizens of Florence during the shelter-at-home declaration," a regional manager for the company that operates SpringHill Suites said in an email obtained by the Herald-Leader.

Whalen said that in addition to the zoning issues, she was worried the homeless would congregate outside their rooms in violation of social distancing protocols. She also expressed concern that Welcome House and Emergency Shelter were trying to shelter too many people in Florence without coordinating with local health authorities.

"Communication and planning are key to protecting not only the community being housed under one roof in a hotel where large gatherings beyond their rooms is not permitted, but also the larger community where an influx of large numbers of people from a different location can potentially further spread the virus," Whalen said to the Herald-Leader.

The 40 people that were supposed to stay at the SpringHill Suites have reportedly been moved to another hotel, where they'll be lodged until May 4.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended American society in radical ways, yet one thing that remains stubbornly unchanged is local governments' penchant for NIMBYism, particularly when it comes to sheltering the homeless.

A similar deal to shelter the homeless at a Best Western in West Haven, Connecticut, fell through after the town's police chief demanded the hotel hire two police officers to be on-site for 24 hours a day at a daily cost of nearly $5,000, a price tag that included paying the officers' wages, benefits, vehicle costs, plus an 18 percent administration fee.

Larger cities in the country with significant homeless populations have set up temporary shelters that, judging from photos, are less than ideal for social distancing purposes.

Many of the country's hotels are near empty right now as travel and the economy in general grinds to a halt. Using those spare rooms to shelter the homeless during the pandemic could be beneficial for all involved.

Homeless guests would be able to stay indoors with hot and cold running water, comfortable places to sleep, and TVs that would make it easier to comply with social distancing, and hotels would get much-needed business.

It's a shame that some local governments have taken it upon themselves to tear up what should be a voluntary win-win arrangement between hotels and homeless service providers.

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  1. the town’s police chief demanded the hotel hire two police officers to be on-site for 24 hours a day at a daily cost of nearly $5,000, a price tag that included paying the officers’ wages, benefits, vehicle costs, plus an 18 percent administration fee.

    Because homelessness is a crime?

    1. How the fuck could it possibly cost $2,500 a day to pay and equip a police officer? Assuming 200 working days a year, that’s half a million a year for one officer. If that’s not fraud waste, and abuse, I don’t know what is.

      1. Bills out at a little over 100/hr. I’d have to go back and look and ask people what we used to have to pay to get two of them to direct traffic in front of the hotel, and this was over a decade ago, but I can see it. They aren’t cheap security. Probably why the city or county often mandates that a venue must hire them.

        I think your idea of fraud and skimming is pretty damned likely though. As well as a way for the town to say, “No way in Hell,” without coming out and saying it.

        1. Ah, good point. I was assuming that fee was per eight-hour shift, but I see that the fee was for 24-hour coverage. Still exorbitant, considering the average salary of a civilian security guard, but at least more understandable.

          1. AIUI, and I’m not a lawyer, if you expect your clientele to get rowdy or partake of contraband, or just be a generally criminal pain in the ass, cops have a lot to offer in the security field over a non-LEO. They can make arrests, take contraband into possession if necessary, they’re trained how to direct traffic, their use-of-force comes with some defacto beneficial assumptions attached to it, etc… I don’t know if commercial insurance offers discounted premiums when LEOs are used versus private security, but I can see it.

            1. Having worked private security, your primary job is to be visible, and to call cops if needed. Beyond that you’re checking people’s bags, doing door activities, and staving off boredom.

              1. Having also worked private security I can back this up. The training was very specific – “you are not a cop. You have no more authority than anyone else. You are not a hero. You will not be apprehending people. You are there to be a visible body with eyes capable of calling the real police.”

                I did it 1992-95, and I topped out at $6/hr. And when I quit my site was in the middle of an investigation because one of the guards was stealing shit on a night shift.

                So yeah – I would be 0% surprised if insurance made a distinction between actual LEOs, who often have both actual training and IQs topping 100, and something like your basic Pinkerton package involving personnel who are . . . less qualified than that.

        2. Bills out at a little over 100/hr.

          In addition to the cops salary, which depending on their rank, years of service, etc. could easily be in the $50-$60/ hr range you also have to factor in and pro-rate all their bennies, vehicle costs, etc. Plus, if the cops are getting to charge overtime like they often do when workign event security, I could easily see it coming out to $100/hr once all is said and done.

          I think the 18% “administration fee” is probably your fraud, waste, and abuse.

          1. I think the 18% “administration fee” is probably your fraud, waste, and abuse.


      2. Uh, 3 police officers per 24 hour day.
        So $2,400/day is just $100.00/hr.
        But it is still bullshit, of course.
        And that 18% administrative fee? And vehicle costs for a parked car?
        In the old days a real reporter would call that graft.

      3. Covers benefits, operating overhead, equipment, and graft and corruption.

        Cops in my town get paid around $120K/year. That’s $600 for an 8-hour shift, or $1,800/day.

        1. “Cops in my town get paid around $120K/year. That’s $600 for an 8-hour shift, or $1,800/day.”

          West or East Coast? It’s not something that’s a thing in Flyover Land other than maybe Chicago. It does sound familiar for parts of CA though. Pretty damned good salary for a job that last-I-looked, only required a high school diploma and some LE academy class time.

          1. In the Wisconsin town of 51,000 where I grew up, cops start at around $60,000. I don’t know what their benefits package amounts to. Have to say that $120K isn’t half bad for a job that requires the brainpower of a comatose chimp.

            1. Have to say that $120K isn’t half bad for a job that requires the brainpower of a comatose chimp.

              Hey now, let’s be fair. It takes a lot more brain power than a comatose chimp to remember to yell “Stop resisting!” while beating an unarmed man in handcuffs half to death. Plus they have to remember to plant the evidence and of course, to shoot any dogs they come in contact with. That’s a lot of shit to remember.

          2. East coast.

            Funny thing – My town’s budget lists every single employee’s salary. It’s online. Anyone can see it, but they’d rather complain about property taxes.

  2. Were the nonprofits also going to pick up the tab for the inevitable room/common areas demolition that would occur? I mean, if you were thinking about renovating the entire hotel soon anyway…

    I remember the days of riding herd on Katrina refugees. There comes a point where it doesn’t matter if FEMA is covering the bill or not; the guests simply aren’t worth the additional headaches they bring with them. SpringHill Suites are nice properties in the extended stay space. I’ve liked the ones I’ve stayed at in Dallas and other cities.

    1. I once stayed at a motel (I won’t grace it with the term “hotel”) where, before it was reclaimed from condemnation by some East Indians, homeless people had taken up residence by literally knocking out the walls and squatting between the studs. Apparently there is something about drywall — or maybe it’s just flat, vertical surfaces — to which homeless people find themselves allergic. It’s a peculiar affliction I haven’t found referenced in any medical journal. Maybe it’s an area that’s ripe for research.

    2. Were the nonprofits also going to pick up the tab for the inevitable room/common areas demolition that would occur?

      If I owned a hotel that would probably be the only way I’d agree to something like this. That said, the agreement would be between me and the non-profits and the government should butt the hell out.

    3. That’s a decent question for the hotel to ask. Management presumably considered that and accepted the risks/costs. It has nothing to do with the mayor’s heavy-handed decision to interfere with management’s decision.

  3. So a hotel renting rooms is a zoning violation?
    Would this Mayor (and 15 minutes on line did not reveal the (D) or (R) of her) say renting to blacks was a zoning violation? Renting to homosexuals? Why “just” the poor?

    1. What would happen in the nonprofits purchased 40 gift certificates for hotel stays and distributed them to the homeless people, essentially allowing them to purchase their own hotel stays as regular customers as opposed to being “transitional”

    2. I don’t understand this either. It’s a hotel/motel; it’s in the business of renting out rooms; it’s presumably zoned for that, and pays property and business taxes for that; and the quarantines and lockdowns have left it with a lot of empty rooms.

      And if the city is worried about the homeless congregating and violating the 1-fathom social distancing rule, that’s less likely with them having individual rooms that with them all outside under some bridge or down by the river.

      1. Is that a continental fathom or a welsh fathom?

    3. So a hotel renting rooms is a zoning violation?

      You don’t seriously believe that hotels actually want this. If they refuse to rent to individuals based on appearance, they will be accused of civil rights violations. I wouldn’t be surprised if the mayor’s actions are in response to complaints from the hotels themselves.

      1. “If they refuse to rent to individuals based on appearance, they will be accused of civil rights violations.”

        You haven’t lived until you’ve been threatened to be sued by some nutcase, pissed off you won’t let him hang out in your early morning hotel lobby until he can start panhandling, or doing whatever the fuck it is crazy people without jobs or homes do in the middle of the day. Near as we could figure, for awhile, a halfway house, group home or the like, would kick these guys out about 4-5 AM. Wherein they would hop the ‘free-for-them’ bus that started running at that hour, and get out at the stop near the hotel I worked overnights in. They were bored, crazy—the scene in “A Beautiful Mind” was replicated for me, on roughly 100 sheets of napkins, Kleenexs, and whatever other paper the guy could find: all dumped on my front desk as the guy was explaining how they were chasing him, but he was getting better—-and had nothing to do but scare my guests trying to check out.

        Anyway, my and my coworkers patience reached a limit, and everyone got trespassed out of the hotel. Threats of lawsuits, action by the local investigation news team, and a simple, chilling, “I’ll get you.” ensued.

        Good times. Nothing came of it, of course.

  4. I’m wondering if the reason lc1789 got banned wasn’t for anything he specifically said, but rather for the fact that he would go on long stretches where he’d post link after link. Maybe that triggered some sort of spambot filter . . . not that Reason ever seems to ban the real spambots.

    As unfortunate as it is that he got axed, I can’t say it hasn’t been more pleasant in here since he got the boot.

    1. So he actually got banhammered? Wow. Fairly rare company, that.

      I wonder if he did something stupid like threaten to sue them? His link blasting didn’t seem that obnoxious to me.

      1. He’s better than the bad Rev. He also sometimes disappears for a few days, as if on vacation or too busy. I wonder if he got the virus and is isolated away from his computer.

    2. Speaking of which, has Hihn disappeared? I haven’t seen any of his socks in the Reason laundry basket for a while.

      1. I’ve been accused of being Hihn or a Hihn sock puppet, as have several others. Hihn will always be with us.

        1. A Hihn post requires repetition, lots of caps, and lots of bold face.

          You are probably just a cat walking across Hihn’s keyboard.

          1. You forgot about the sneers and other assort of stage direction.

            1. assorted*

              My third nut for a goddamn edit button!

            2. snort.

        2. I’ve been coming here for years and using the same handle since 1999, but Sevo, God love that monotonous piece of shit, and Agamammom still occasionally accuse me of being a sockpuppet. Tulpa probably would too, if I’d had any occasion to draw his ire.

          1. Agamammon*

            My fingers are as demented as Joe Biden’s brain today.

    3. Lc was banned? Are we sure? What about John? Maybe people who keep insisting viruses aren’t real are just getting sick.

      1. John occasionally does actual work from time to time, God bless ‘im. At least, that’s how I interpret the guy’s sometime-absences from the morning commentaries.

        .Gov work: ‘gotta love it.

    4. Maybe that triggered some sort of spambot filter

      That’s just what one the unReason socks would say.

    5. I figured he was just avoiding Reason because of the multi-part series over in the Volokh Conspiracy on the basis (or lack there of) of federal police powers (also called “plenary” powers). lc1789 has some … ideosyncratic … ideas that states also do not have general police powers.

  5. Just checking.

    1. Now that just might be the funniest post you’ve ever made here.

      1. And the most useful.

  6. the hotels aren’t paying the mayor enough good will.

  7. It makes absolutely no sense to tell hotels that they have to close because of “social distancing,” then to put bums and junkies into hotels.

    1. I don’t know about those states, but hotels where I’m from are considered essential.

      We’re working with a non profit for just this sort of thing and it seems to be working fine.

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