State funding for social services for homeless people staying in a hotel in Scarborough ran out earlier this month and it is now up to the city to decide what to do about it.
The Comfort Inn on U.S. Route 1 previously agreed to the city’s condition of license that it would provide social services to these customers and, following the Opportunity Alliance’s removal of its employees from the site, is now in violation of that agreement. . General Manager Tom Hall must decide whether to penalize or fine the owner if the hotel does not resume service.
Scarborough City Council, at its November 16 meeting, voted to give Hall the power to sue landlord AJ Dhillon. Advisors stressed that this ensures those staying at the Comfort Inn receive the resources they need.
“It’s about trying to help keep the people residing there safe,” Councilor John Cloutier said. “We’re not revoking the (hotel’s) license, we’re not trying to speed up what the owner has already planned to do. We try to keep him to his word.
Dhillon was not at the meeting.
“I take that authority and I will use it with discretion,” Hall said. “I think our goal is really to help and find ways to keep the conditions in place. I would be happy to avoid fines and penalties if we can achieve that, but if not I think we have to. have that as an option.
Comfort Inn is moving protected residents out of the hotel in three phases, and the first phase was completed earlier this month. As of November 16, 23 of the 69 rooms were vacant. According to a transition plan put in place in September, another third of the rooms must be vacated by December 1 and the last third by January 1.
“For all intents and purposes, it looks like the transition plan is pretty much on schedule,” Hall said. “I expect there will be several current guests at the Comfort Inn who may end up lingering a little longer than the first of the year. There are unique circumstances, which should not be a surprise, which must be respected and worked with.
A growing number of 911 calls from the hotel prompted the council to impose conditions in September. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 15, there were 349 calls to emergency services and 417 violations associated with the Comfort Inn, according to Police Chief Mark Holmquist.
The Opportunity Alliance, which has placed people at the hotel, has begun providing two full-time staff members to assist guests by providing case management and, if needed, connecting them with support at term for substance abuse and mental health issues. However, the Emergency Rent Assistance, which funded those positions, ran out earlier this month and the two Opportunity Alliance staff members at the Comfort Inn lost their jobs.
“We had to lay off 43 employees, we served all the hotels in Cumberland County (acting as shelters),” Mary Cook, ERA program director for The Opportunity Alliance, told the council. “These two members of staff, who are with me tonight, have done an incredible job in the short time they have been there… They have developed strong relationships with hotel guests. We saw immense progress with the general culture of the hotel. We were very saddened to have to remove this staff.
Many of those leaving the hotel will not be housed this winter, Cook said.
“We anticipate that displaced Comfort Inn households will be forced into even more hazardous living conditions or homelessness,” she said.
Conditions imposed on the hotel’s license renewal in September require on-site security and an on-site coordinator five days a week for eight hours a day to provide social services for “medical, food, transportation and other needs “.
According to Hall, Dhillon, the owner plans to reduce security from five days a week to four, which has been deemed acceptable by the police department.
However, Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said she would not tolerate the disappearance of social services and called on Dhillon to find a way to fund replacement services.
“We absolutely need social services there. I’m sorry, you can’t just rip it off,” Caterina said. “I was really disappointed with the federal government and the state for not including social services with this housing, it’s ridiculous. Do you warehouse people and then you don’t provide them with any service? It’s crazy.
Orlando Perez, who identified as a homeless advocate at the Comfort Inn, said the board doesn’t hear “the positives” in its regular updates on the situation at the hotel.
“There are those who bust their ass trying to find that accommodation that you’re so adamant we’re getting,” he said. “We had three deaths there that had nothing to do with drugs or violence of any kind. There are old people or infirm people.
One of those who died recently was his friend, Perez said.
He also claimed that he had trouble cashing checks and using food stamps at local businesses, and that the hotel was not getting food now that there were no more services in square.
Councilwoman April Sither asked Hall to make sure food is provided to people at the hotel.
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