FIFE, Wash. — On Christmas Eve, a homeless advocacy group booked 16 rooms at the Travelodge Motel at 3518 Pacific Hwy. E. and paid for one night.
But now, the group told the motel’s manager they have no plans to check out, or to pay the bill.
Monday night, as volunteers from Tacoma Housing Now brought in food and supplies for more than 40 homeless people now occupying the 16 rooms, they told KIRO 7 many of them were at risk of dying in the freezing weather when they were brought in from bridges and encampments.
“A lot of these folks here have chronic illnesses,” said a member of Tacoma Housing Now, who asked to be identified as “Arrow.” “They have everything from cancer to severe infections seizures, all sorts of chronic illnesses.”
But motel manager Shawn Randhawa, told Fife Police and the City Manager, the motel is a struggling small family business with 10 employees, which was already devastated by the pandemic. When he was told the group refused to pay for their rooms, he told the city manager he may have to pull the plug on the entire business.
“They may have to close up shop because with no revenues coming in, with their margins where they are, they may have to close operations,” said Fife City Manager Hyun Kim. “So, I’m trying to buy some time. It starts with conversations with both sides.”
Kim said the city of Fife is quickly negotiating with other advocacy groups to find another place for the 43 people to find shelter and services.
“The silver lining here on behalf of the City of Fife is we have about 40 souls who have come off the streets who want assistance, and the City shares in the cause in getting them help.”
Tacoma Housing Now is the group that broke into the abandoned and condemned Gault Middle School building in Tacoma and moved homeless people inside last November. After explaining the air in the building was toxic, Tacoma police moved in that night and moved the group out.
But this time, the group told the owner they will continue to occupy rooms in the Travelodge.
“The owner’s been working with us and from the very beginning,” said Arrow. “We told the owner our goal is to get you paid. And the city and county should pay you!”
“This is a societal issue” said Kim. “We have to start the dialogue, but this kind of confrontation, this kind of being splashy about how to get this moving forward is going to lead to more distrust on both sides.”
Fife Police Chief Peter Fisher told KIRO 7 the group is clearly committing theft and criminal trespassing, but the owner has not asked for the group to be forcibly removed.
“We’re very fortunate in that the business owner, though strapped and wondering if day to day if he can even stay in business, is willing to work with us,” Fisher said. “The last thing we want to do is have 40 people in this cold weather kicked back out into the street without any resources.”
Arrow said the group will negotiate, but they will not compromise for less than permanent shelter.
“We want to create something sustainable,” he said. “But if the answer to that includes people who are (now) sleeping in warm beds dying under a bridge from exposure, I cannot accept that.”