It’s been a long time coming but in a few short weeks Rimbey and Jason Schroeder, along with their three daughters, will move out of the motel room they have called home for the past year and into a Lawrenceville apartment.
When I first told you about the Schroeders they were living in a Motel 6 in Norcross, one of many hardworking families and elderly individuals on a fixed income stuck in extended-stay motels in metro Atlanta.
In fact, according to a survey released last spring of residents from nine extended-stay motels in Norcross, 84% of respondents indicated that an extended-stay motel is their place of residence. And, while they had jobs, they were struggling financially and couldn’t afford the upfront financial obligations they needed in order to move into a rental unit.
What was also noteworthy was that 29% of the hotel residents were 55 and older.
The survey was conducted in late 2018 by LiveNorcross, a local program of the statewide Georgia Initiative for Community Housing.
Not surprising, dozens of readers responded after reading about the Schroeders, offering everything from gift cards to money to help cover a week’s stay at the hotel.
“The outpouring of support from the readers was wonderful,” Rimbey Schroeder said recently. “We are very grateful for everyone that helped us.”
But just as LiveNorcross was releasing its survey results, pleas for help to the United Way of Greater Atlanta 211 call center were increasing.
“What we found was that our greatest unmet need was for families living in extended-stay hotels,” said Protip Biswas, vice president of homeless.
Since then several things have happened:
Months after the column about the Schroeders ran, Norcross and College Park officials each donated $25,000 to help local families in extended-stay motels find more stable housing. United Way matched their donations.
Through its Motel to Home program, United Way of Greater Atlanta along with a long list of partners is working to help even more families find permanent housing. At last count, they had placed some 86 families.
“That’s the model we want to promote,” Biswas said.
Those partners include nonprofits St. Vincent de Paul, Action Ministries, Housing Plus, Community Concerns, and New Life Community Ministries.
Still, outreach to these families can be tricky, Biswas said.
Not only are hotels resistant to teams contacting families, he said, finding the resources to make deposits, helping families navigate the process or even finding the right housing can be tough.
For now, Biswas said team members simply follow school buses, paying close attention to where parents are picking their children up. And so instead of going to motels, they start conversations at school bus stops near motels or the closest laundromat.
“We have to start conversations with families so we know what they want to do,” Biswas said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of making a deposit or finding the right housing and then convincing the landlord to work with them. Sometimes families want their kids in Gwinnett schools but with good schools come high rents so we have to sometimes convince families to weigh their options and make hard choices.”
Although families in motels aren’t considered homeless, they aren’t people staying in hotels for the short term either. They are living in a single room for four or more months at a time.
Here’s why that’s a problem that extends far beyond mere homelessness.
Studies show that people who live in hotels for extended periods experience more stress and domestic violence. Children suffer the most, emotionally and academically.
“Housing is a fundamental need for every family,” Biswas said. “The sooner families can get into their own place, the sooner they are able to start addressing getting additional income and their child’s education performance.”
It’s easy to look down our noses at these families but many are there through no fault of their own. They are often underemployed, struggling to overcome past issues with landlords, or just need additional help.
In 2019 alone, more than 3,000 families in metro Atlanta in extended stays placed calls for help with the United Way 211 call center. Biswas said there is still a lot to be done.
“Housing is the single largest unmet need,” he said. “It’s an area ripe for discussion and action.”
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