Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 30, 2014

Volunteer urges hotels to open empty rooms to homeless

TRAVERSE CITY — On New Year’s Eve, a volunteer at Third Level Crisis Intervention Center received a frantic phone call on the crisis line. A mom feared she and her two children would freeze to death.

The family huddled in a running van to stay warm, but the gas tank was near empty. The temperature outside was a frigid four degrees, and they had nowhere to turn.

The mom told volunteer Kathy Kelly that shelters run by the Women’s Resource Center and Goodwill Inn were full. Her children, ages 10 and 12, were too young to stay at Pete’s Place Youth Shelter. Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse provides emergency overnight shelter for adults only.

“My colleague said to tell her to go to Meijer and stay active and walk around all night,” Kelly said. “All I could picture was trying to tell my two kids that they couldn’t go to sleep and have to be mobile all night long. I started to cry. I said, ‘I can’t call her back and tell her that.’”

Just then, Goodwill Inn called Kelly to say they could give the family a hotel voucher.

Kelly, the general manager of Sleep Inn in Acme Township, wondered why she’d never heard of the voucher program. Now that she has, she wants the rest of the hotel and motel community to know about it, too.

“My goal is to get these families in warm places,” she said. “If hotel operators can step up from November through March when we have a lot of empty rooms, we’ll have no more homeless in the winter months.”

Kelly is working to connect her world of hotels and motels with that of Third Level and Billie Hedglen, the housing specialist for Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency.

Hedglen gives out short-term hotel or motel vouchers to families as a “last resort” — when they’ve exhausted all other options, such as shelters, family or friends.

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