What Would You Do If Your Hotel Was Also Serving as a Homeless Shelter?

New York City booked 100 rooms at the Radisson JFK .. and didn’t tell the hotel that the rooms were for the homeless.

The hotel is furious and says they won’t rent rooms to the Departmnet of Homeless Services again at any price.

Pierre Merhej, the general manager of the Radisson Hotel on 145th Street in Jamaica, said a representative from the city called his hotel’s sales office last month and said the city would need dozens of rooms at the 385-room hotel for a “government group” in November, he said.

“When you say they have a government group, as hotel people we like government groups,” Merhej said, adding that November is usually a slow month for the hotel, which is a few blocks from John F. Kennedy Airport.

…“It really doesn’t have an impact on our regular guests,” he said.

The hotel apparently allowed DHS to cater outside food and drink, something large groups are frequently forbidden to do. The homeless have since moved out of the hotel.

The piece observes that the hotel is right next to what used to be a homeless shelter, so…

I’m very much not a connoisseur of homeless shelters, but the Radisson JFK has always struck me as likely around the upper range of what most homeless shelters are like. Which is really just saying it’s about average for a hotel near JFK airport.

So here’s the thing:

  • Would it bother you to stay in a hotel where the largest in-house group are homeless?
  • Don’t they have a right to stay on property if the going rate is being paid for their accommodations?

How do you come down, as a guest?

(HT: Alan H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. 1. Wouldn’t mind
    2. Hotels should be able to say no. More importantly govt should have been more clearer. The only party who loses in all of this is the homeless folks.

  2. “Don’t they have a right to stay on property if the going rate is being paid for their accommodations?”

    I’m guessing that the “going rate” they tried to pay was actually a cheap gov’t rate that is meant to be used for gov’t employees. And if that was the case, no issues with what the hotel did

  3. This becomes an issue with coooking in rooms using hotplates. these are not safe uses of the room. There might be behavior issues and atypical dressing in hallways but to complain about these might be considered nimby or racial.

  4. As a person who works on a regular basis with those who are homeless, I would have no problem staying in a hotel where homeless individuals are spending the night. They are humans, after all. It sounds to me that the agency should have been truthful about their intent for the rooms though. If the hotel had then welcomed them with open arms, that would be a positive check for that hotel in my mind.

    Around here, there are lots of homeless families who are staying in local motels, especially when it gets very cold outside. Agencies/groups/churches will often pay for a few nights for those individuals to stay.

  5. i think the fact that the city representative lied when making the reservation speaks for itself…

  6. I think it works better if the entire hotel is rented out, and not just part of it, and here’s why. Travelers who pay out of pocket for their room have an expectation of a certain amount of security and anonymity, and don’t want to face other people’s problems when they are arriving at 10 p.m., and departing at 6 a.m. It’s like mixing oil and water.

    For the hotel, it means that the room will be occupied closer to 24 hours a day, versus the 10 or 12 for the average in-and-out guest. Even under the best conditions, there will be increased upkeep and expense necessary for the hotel to keep the rooms in the pristine condition expected by guests.

    Although I think that everyone deserves to have a roof over their head, there’s a right and wrong way to go about it, for all parties.

  7. If I knew a hotel was serving as a homeless shelter, I’d likely book elsewhere. However, the big issue here is that the city lied to the hotel when making the booking. Had they been honest about it, there wouldn’t be a story.

  8. I like @Broc’s comments. I agree. And I will add that the basic issue for me is that a homeless sheler should not be renting hotel rooms! We have a complete failure in almost every part of the US to adequately address the issue of homelessness. It is a disgrace.

  9. @Rob, how do you possibly speculate that the rate was the “government rate”? To provide a reference point, the November 2014 federal government rate for NYC is $304 – far in excess of the $175 to $220 the article indicates is a typical rate for that property.

    But more specifically, notwithstanding a general libertarian bent, I am uneasy with the idea of declining accommodations merely because the clientele are undesirable. We are all God’s children. But 1000 room nights at, perhaps $200 per night strikes me as a poor use of city resources.

  10. Personally, my decision on whether I would want to stay there would depend on who the homeless are. If the city was using the hotel for a shelter for, say, battered woman and children I do not think I would have a problem staying there. But from a safety standpoint, I do not think I would want to stay in a hotel with a large male homeless population. The failings of the American mental health system are well known and unfortunatly many of the severely mentally ill end up on the street or in prison (often bouncing between the two).

  11. Aside from the waste of gov’t money (the large scale purchase of Radisson hotel rooms in NYC for homeless people strikes me as epic gov’t waste), I would not like this as a guest of the hotel. Honestly, I am usually comfortable in overnight stays at what many folks would consider “budget” hotels. But I tend to avoid them, when I can, because of their clientele. You’re in close quarters with other people in a hotel. I’m sure other frequent flyers will agree with me when I say that you’re far less likely to have problems with your other guests in more upscale accommodations. Fewer parties next door, fewer drunk people wandering the halls, etc. Long term residents — who likely have friends — are even more likely to cause problems. Throw homeless people into your hotel — who, as a group, are probably the most likely to cause problems — and you have the worst of all worlds. No hotel manager would want this.

  12. @jfhscott – clubcarlson has a “government rate” option on their website – next Monday, the “government rate” is $174 with breakfast.

    The Federal Government per diem rate for the zip of JFK is $295
    this would mean Fed employees could pick the Radisson JFK as it’s lower than the per diem rate allowed.

    This hotel has T&C http://www.radisson.com/offers/8480104/
    that state
    “Government hotel rates are available for travel on official government business only for federal employees. Military personnel, their dependants and members of several government/military associations visiting NYC are extended the rate for official and leisure travel. An eligible party must occupy the room to qualify for this rate plan.”

    So it appears by paying the hotels “government rate”, and by filling those rooms with parties NOT eligible to qualify for the rate plan means the NY DHS violated the T&C of the hotel.

    So the hotel is right in doing what they’ve done – they have banned an entity for violating their T&C

  13. “@Rob, how do you possibly speculate that the rate was the “government rate”?”

    If they tried to misrepresent who the people staying there were going to be when booking the hotel, it’s reasonable to assume they probably also misrepresented them when choosing which rate to pay.

    Also, I’m unfortunately familiar enough with the rampant corruption of NYC government officials that both the “known” facts of this situation and the ones I’m assuming are eminently believable

  14. My Ex and I were placed in the Mt. Kisco (NY) Holiday Inn when I was interviewed by IBM Research back in 1983 – at that time a very nice place for a few days. Fast forward to 1998, and I put my out-of-town inlaws there during family event. Turns out Westchester County was housing homeless folks there at the same time. Here’s the difference: guests keeping the doors of their rooms open all the time (for socializing I presume – but you can see inside as you walk past and they have a lot more “stuff” than usual business/pleasure travel guests, and it does raise the noise level in the otherwise silent hallways), folks hanging out in the hallways and stairways along with soft drinks, snacks, and adult beverages in paper bags left around, little kids playing unsupervised in the hallways along with their toys (also left behind in the hallways when the kids move on). Belongings and trash in the hallways just outside rooms (and not part of the usual housekeeping processes). None of this is too surprising when you consider that these are families that are not there with a very specific agenda (like business and pleasure travelers usually have), and for them this is “home”, not a transient “passing through” like we reading this blog.

    In the end, it was no big deal. My inlaws room was fine, and we were reminded a bit more than usual that these were folks just like us except they were down on their luck at the moment. There go we, but the grace of God, and all that.

    And on that note: Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Having worked in a shelter, I can say that the “homeless” term in this case is a little tenuous – we’d generally call these residents “marginally housed”, as they have been provided a form of temporary housing, rather than residing on the streets.

    And isn’t “temporary housing” exactly what a hotel is for?

  16. well you can blame mike bloomberg for running the city like a corporation for the past decade and creating the largest homeless crisis in post-war city history. and deblasio isn’t doing much to help, either.

  17. @Joe no, hotels are not temporary housing
    building codes have a specific definition for transient/temporary housing, and hotels are not it.

  18. @ Steve: I think the facts – that “City officials booked a block of 100 rooms for 10 days” and “The rooms were not full the whole time” and the GM “said he wasn’t sure how many people stayed at the hotel in all” – indicate that this occupancy would not be defined as transient or temporary housing under any building codes.

  19. Business is Business. As long as they are paying guests or guest paid for I do not see a problem.

  20. If i went there and there were not large groups of people hanging out all over the place then it would not be a problem…Its really circumstantial.

  21. As a taxes-paying citizen, I’m not that concerned about it. If an agency determined that this was the best use of their funds, I’m likely to defer to their more informed judgement.

    As a potential guest, I’d mostly be concerned about the behavior or the mentally ill and drunks. Not sure if this would impact my choice of hotels (probably depends on who I’m traveling with), but I suspect it would matter to a certain large segment of the US population which doesn’t like being exposed to such things (note: this is true generally across income levels).

    As the hotel, I’d be concerned about reviews on TripAdvisor (from other guests, natch, not the homeless so much) and who’s paying for any damage to my hotel rooms.

  22. Not to generalize, but I think that it would be safe to say that this group created a lot of headaches for the hotel that they were not equipped/prepared to handle. Many of the homeless find themselves in that situation as a result of substance abuse or mental health issues. This is something that is unfair for the staff and the hotel to have to deal with. I hope that any damages caused by this “group” were billed back to the government.

  23. I agree they have a right to stay, the piece and likely whatever supporting documentation, didn’t outline any specific problems the hotel reported having with the homeless guests. If they don’t clearly document tangible specific problems, then they shouldn’t be denying the accommodation.

    I’m sure the city could find that some of the guests are in a protected class and launch a discrimination suit against the hotel. The city has lawyers on the clock already while the hotel would likely have to pay for pricy corporate representation for a long and lengthy process as any administrative complaint or suit progresses. We could be talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills the hotel would have to pay if the city or DOJ decided to flex its muscle and take an action against the hotel.

    I have actually thought of when I had to do a mattress run if somehow I could give the room to a homeless person and what the logistical details would look like. Right now for instance I am trying to max out the Hyatt points offer & get a few more stays for my Diamond status. It would be neat if I could “donate” those rooms to homeless people. I actually have some connections in state government so I am going to run the idea by my connection who actually knows of some cases of homeless people and see what they think of the logistics of doing it on a small scale.

    Imagine if we had a portal where people needing the nights could book rooms & get these rooms all over the country for homeless people.

  24. There is no indication in the article that there was any damage or any disturbance to other guests. Considering they were digging for a story, I am sure that they would have come up with commentary from another guest or the hotel manager would have mentioned if there had been any issues. So what it comes down to is the manager worrying that bigoted people won’t stay at his hotel if they find out that the perfectly well behaved person in the next room is poor.

  25. Oh this is a tough one. As a one-off, I have no issue with it at all. On a larger scale, you are likely looking at larger scale issues. I worked at homeless shelters in NYC, and even with the high housing costs in NYC, many are not homeless just because they don’t make enough money to pay rent. There are very frequently drug, alcohol, and serious mental health issues at play.

    Of course, the average hotel guest may have drug, alcohol, or mental health issues at play, too, but usually not “dozens” at the same time. So, a spattering of otherwise homeless guests at the hotel is probably not a big deal, but there may be a tipping point at which the hotel may have some different than normal issues on their hands that they may not be equipped to deal with, and that may impact other guests.

    Of course, it all depends. If the guests are all following the rules and not disturbing anyone else then hard to have an issue with it (homeless shelters are not cheap to run, either). However, my gut says that there would likely be some unique issues brought on by this unique population that may not be best served in a hotel environment.

  26. A homeless shelter needs to be a proper shelter, with professionals trained in handling severely mentally ill or addicted people. I can think of two motels off the top just in my parish that were burned down by people living there, because drunk people smoking crack etc. have a way of causing fires.

    @Mika I used to get comped a ton of hotel rooms, and you quickly find out why your idea won’t work. If it’s your name and your credit card holding the room, you don’t really want to be responsible for somebody else’s behavior unless you know them really, really, really well. No way I’m going through some kind of portal where I can’t take the measure of the guy and how much/if he smokes in person. We did occasionally get rooms for one homeless guy we knew really, really, really well, but he was pretty unique among the homeless guys I’ve known in not being any kind of smoker or drug user. Probably the only one in Vegas!

  27. This happened to me during college tours in MA. We stayed in the Springfield area and we didn’t realize that the upper floors were occupied by families from Florida. If I would have known I would not have booked at that location, issues I had was the drama in the parking lot at 1AM caused by a permanent guest, the breakfast area looked more like a playground with all the toys, and the kids playing throughout lobby unattended. Yes, the drama can happen anywhere but the toys & kids being left unattended is not appropriate at any hotel.

  28. With over 30 years of working as a paramedic, most of that in NYC, I can tell you that there is NO WAY I would stay. Most homeless are not ‘people who lost their homes’, they are mentally ill chemical abusers, with all the pathology and dysfunction you can imagine. It is true that most homeless are pretty harmless…but with four people pushed in front of subway trains by the MICA homeless in the past two years (1), two children stabbed in elevator this June in Brooklyn (2), an axe attack on four police officers in Queens last month (3), and one mother getting decapitated by her son in Long Island last month (4), I’m just not taking the chance. We don’t live in a society where the craziest are actually forced to take their medications- just today, the New York Daily News called for stronger enforcement of New York’s Kendra Law, which forced the mentally ill to get (and stay in) treatment (5), particularly on release from prison, where officials estimate that 40% of prisoners are mentally ill (6).

    (1) http://nypost.com/2014/11/17/at-least-4-people-pushed-in-front-of-subways-in-less-than-two-years/
    (2) http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/brooklyn-elevator-accused-stabbing-man-chelsea-cops-article-1.1818258
    (3) http://nypost.com/2014/10/23/man-shot-dead-after-striking-cop-in-the-head-with-ax/
    (4) http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/disturbed-man-beheaded-mom-2-days-meeting-psychiatrist-article-1.1993915
    (5) http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-insanity-article-1.2016953
    (6) http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/top-prison-guard-retire-reports-rikers-violence-article-1.1989722

  29. I would never be picking a spot that was “upper range of homeless shelters” but I also don’t think there should be discrimination against a local government trying to find solutions to this problem……….in san Francisco the city and the VA have teamed to open a homeless hotel that will serve as permanent lodging for the most severe drug and alcohol and homeless cases……..it’s a wonderful program and a wonder legacy to some of the programs that General Shinseki started……..if we’re not changing the world for the better then we should at least defer to those who are willing to try…..

  30. If <10% of the guests are homeless, I would not mind. I certainly would mind otherwise, and do believe it affects the infrastructure and service-level and effort required. If the homeless want to charge their own credit cards, that's a very different thing, than if the government does, especially if misrepresenting itself.

  31. Everything is relative. Hotels full of business travellers can mean lots of single men and for women travelling alone that can be an intimidating environment – most female business travellers I know take room service and avoid the bar unless travelling with colleagues.

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