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Guest Column | Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater: Friends In Deed’s Emergency Motel Program – A Few Updates and Clarifications

Published on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 | 5:46 am

There have been several stories in this paper in the last week regarding the emergency motel program and Friends In Deed’s role in operations. Although we are not the only agency administering motels in the city, since we have historically been the organization operating the Bad Weather Shelter, we are more front and center in regard to the motels that have currently replaced the shelter as an option on cold and rainy nights. I would like to clarify a few points that have been reported, and offer a clear picture of how our program operates.

In the 2021-22 season, we received approximately $277K in government funding for emergency motel rooms. For this 2022-23 season, we are to receive $111K for this program per our government contracts. We were not told that there could be additional funding as the season progressed. After our program opened on January 5th, we saw that the number of people needing motels would be limited due to the amount of funding. As such, in order to ensure that we had enough money to last for the entire winter weather season, which closes at the end of March, we felt it responsible to apportion the money to allow for some rooms to be available each week. One correction from the recent city council meeting: after that first week, we did express our concern and ask if there were additional funds available. When the first article went to print about the program, we hadn’t heard back about the additional funding. As such, when asked by the reporter, as part of an interview with many questions, if we had enough money to place everyone who wanted a room, the answer was no. And then the other articles appeared, a special meeting was called, and further funds were allotted.

Allow me to explain a few things about how this program compares with the Bad Weather Shelter that we operated for nearly 35 years, prior to Covid. On any night where it was forecast to be 40 degrees or below, or 40% chance of rain, our shelter was activated. However, regardless of whether we had 30 people, 50 people, or 100 people, the cost was the same: we had the same number of staff; volunteers provided enough food for the meal; the rent, insurance, cleaning services and other supplies were all the same. The main difference is that the shelter was solely an overnight program, 8pm-7am, and regardless of the daytime weather, folks had to go back onto the streets and then return that night if we were going to be open. 

In contrast, placing people into motel rooms is an entirely different program, and has significantly higher costs. As an example, this past week, we placed 65 people into motels for 6 nights due to cold weather. The benefit of this program is that people don’t have leave during the day and return each night. They have the room for 6 nights, which is great. However, placing 65 people for 6 nights, at $113.85/night costs about $38K. And that is just one week. There are twelve weeks in the season. And while we don’t have inclement weather every week, we expect there to be many nights that we will activate. So, you can see that while it is fantastic that we have an additional $100K being allocated for motels, it could easily be spent in 3 weeks. We currently have 84 people on our motel waiting list, and as the season continues, more and more people will hear that we have motels for “everyone,” and will be requesting them. If we wanted to provide a motel room to everyone that requests one on every night that we are open, we would need at least another $150K, which is in addition to the $100K already being approved. The total cost for the season, including the $60K we already spent, conservatively, would be around $320K.

Last season, we placed 85 people into motels for a total of 815 motel stays—for the whole season. This year, to date, we have already placed nearly 67 people into motels for a total of 519 motel stays. And it is only the middle of January. The math is pretty simple to see how much is needed to achieve the goals that the council has set.

We also want the community to understand that placing everyone that wants a motel is not as simple as it sounds. We might call the person and they don’t answer, or they lost their phone or don’t call us back; a person may not be allowed back to the motel for past behavior; a person might say they are meeting us at the motel and don’t show up. In addition, the current Bad Weather Supplies distribution program that we operate on Thursday nights, which is the main launching spot for motel stays, is not covered by government funding.

I am sharing all of these details so that the council members, and the readership of Pasadena Now, can fully understand the costs of this program and how it is operated. Friends In Deed prides itself on serving the most vulnerable in our community, each day, with compassion, connection and dignity. We are also fiscally responsible and run several other year-round programs, so we are doing what we are able to do with the funding made available. I invite any of the council members, or community members, to stop by First United Methodist Church any Thursday, 5pm-7pm, to meet the folks we are serving and offer them good wishes. 

We are grateful for our partnership with the city of Pasadena, and all of the community members that support us. We look forward to continuing to serve as many people as possible for the rest of this season, and hope that adequate funding will be provided to make that happen. 

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the Executive Director of Friends In Deed.

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