Calling a Hotel Home, For Now

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Before coming to this modest hotel near Penn Station many families had been at a shelter at the Bronx Armory — all of them in one large room where the lights never went out and where mentally ill homeless women were staying nearby. It was a trying time for many. Rosie Balthea says she and her family felt cut off from the rest of the world. They were relieved to be moving on:

“When we came here the first thing we ran to when we looked in the room, uh a T.V. Let's turn to the news. Ok we’re back,” she recalled.

Still, it’s not life before the storm. While they have a roof over their heads, her family of four share one room, has no kitchen and all sleep in the same bed. Several families who have been shuffled around together by the city or FEMA have grown close. They share food and money. And Balthea says she and two other parents take turns schlepping back to Far Rockaway each weekday to take 3 different kids to school. 

“We all of us here we work together,” she explained. “We became one big family that’s struggling and doing whatever we can to pull together and be supportive of one another. “

But they all long for a permanent home. Balthea lost everything in the storm except two prized goldfish that are still swimming in their fish bowl in what’s left of her Far Rockaway home. She’s qualified for 18 months of rental assistance from FEMA, but what she really wants is to be given priority for a public housing apartment.

NYCHA says it has a waiting list with 160,000 people on it and its currently working with its own residents who may have been impacted by Sandy.

Alistair Williams, who’s staying at the same Holiday Inn as Balthea, thinks the city’s money would be better spent going towards renting him an apartment rather than a hotel room.  

“At the going rate here it averages about $300 a night and 31 days that’s $9,300 for the month of December.”

Another issue with staying at the hotel is no on really knows how long the city will foot the bill. Williams heard from another Sandy victim that he has to leave by December 31. The city says there is no deadline.

Williams is unsure about what’s next. But, his situation is better than 45-year-old Sadie Mott’s. She has been told by FEMA that she must check out of the Doubletree Hotel in the Financial District by noon Saturday:

“They said that’s all they can do for me, that they had gave me the moneys and the time and now I’m on my own basically,” she said.

FEMA has been paying for nearly 4,000 Sandy victims to stay at hotels. A FEMA spokesperson says their transitional shelter assistance program lasts for about a month.

Mott said she was given 30 days of rental assistance. But she wasn’t able to find an apartment and ended up using the money to pay for food, transportation, and other necessities. Her Rockaway apartment is not an option since its infested with mold. She says FEMA told her to go to a homeless shelter.

On Friday evening, she was trying not to think about where she’ll sleep Saturday night, instead she was keeping to her normal schedule and attending class at Brooklyn College. 

“When I get back to the hotel room I think it will all come down on me,” she said. “Right now I’m trying to focus on my class and everything and trying to keep that off my mind so I won’t have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the street.”

Advocates have warned that under the best circumstances, it takes time to find apartments, especially cheap ones. Time has run out for Mott and she says she’s about to join the ranks of the homeless in New York City.