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.