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Two Durango motels deny homeless guests

Grant program intended to relocate at-risk individuals runs into challenges
Darren White and Donna Mae Baukat, both with Community Compassion Outreach, serve food to Andrew Miller, left, and Matt Longwell during a Coffee with the Homeless event in 2018. In May, Community Compassion Outreach received a grant to relocate people experiencing homelessness who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Two motels, however, no longer want to receive CCO’s clients.

Community Compassion Outreach has started relocating members of La Plata County’s homeless population to motels using a recently awarded grant. Two Durango motels, however, have said they will not accept any more reservations from the organization.

The Colorado COVID Relief Fund awarded the nonprofit homeless-advocacy group $10,000 to provide motel rooms and rental assistance to unhoused residents in the county. Some motels, like Spanish Trails Inn & Suites and Quality Inn in Durango, have been open to accepting CCO’s clients.

But after originally housing eight such guests, Super 8 Durango and Motel Durango have said no more.

“I know that motels have rules, and I respect it,” said Donna Mae Baukat, CCO executive director. “I understand what’s going on, and I’m happy to accommodate them. It’s the way it was handled that is really bad.”

Communities around the nation and in Colorado have turned to hotels and motels to provide accommodations for people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. Viral transmission is more likely in large homeless shelters, where people sleep in close proximity and share common spaces. Meanwhile, hotels have been vacant or sparsely occupied.

The CARES Act, a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, included billions in grants to house homeless people temporarily in vacant hotels and motels. But the idea has also met resistance, primarily around the logistics of moving people and managing virus-related concerns, according to The Washington Post.

In Durango, Super 8 owner Nath Vadher was most concerned about people following the rules.

“This is the coronavirus, everyone has to follow social distancing right now, wearing the masks,” he said. “If they don’t follow the guideline, then we can’t have them stay in the hotel because we have to protect our employees and our guests, too.”

CCO’s $10,000 grant provided funds for 14-day self-quarantine stays at motels. Besides helping homeless individuals, Baukat said CCO can assist people facing homelessness. For example, people who have been furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic and are having difficulty making rent can apply for assistance from CCO.

Of the eight people placed with COVID-19 dollars, all are vulnerable to the disease in some way, Baukat said. For example, clients have had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, blood clot issues, asthma and cancer.

Two weeks ago, Motel Durango told Baukat that all the people she placed since December are “100% bad,” she said. The motel on about May 20 announced it would no longer take any of Baukat’s new referrals.

“My clients were told, ‘We’re not accepting Donna Mae’s reservations anymore,’” Baukat said.

Motel Durango did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday. But on Friday night, Tyler Spoo, a front-desk worker, said the motel’s problem is not with homeless residents; rather, it is with Baukat, who he said has not paid some past bills, has threatened the motel’s reputation and has brought drug users and people who have caused damage.

“It’s just not what we’re looking for at our hotel,” Spoo said.

He said the motel is no longer doing business with Community Compassion Outreach as a result of its dealings with Baukat.

Baukat did threaten the motel’s reputation while she was upset; however, her accounts are paid in full and she had not received an invoice about other charges, she said Saturday.

“I have no idea what they are referring to when Mr. Spoo implies I pay late or none at all!” she said in an emailed statement.

At Super 8, people did not follow social-distancing guidelines and had guests in their rooms, Vadher said. An employee called the Durango Police Department twice because of disturbances. Staff noted smoke in nonsmoking rooms, a damaged wall and missing items. Vadher attributed it to the CCO’s clients. The clients said they were not at fault, Vadher said.

Super 8 emailed Baukat a list of people, informing her they had to go, Baukat said. She was not told details of the incidents, she said, but at first, it seemed like the motel was terminating the reservations for multiple people because of one person’s behavior.

“If the hotel had called me, I would go immediately, on a phone call or personally, to tell the person she or he cannot stay there any longer,” Baukat said.

Motels have expectations, and she explains them to her clients, Baukat said. For example, they cannot have visitors because they are isolating because of the pandemic. If the hotel says they have to wear masks, they have to do it.

“All of this came down to a miscommunication,” Baukat said. “One of the things that is clear is that I’m not allowed to reserve rooms for these people anymore.”

This story has been updated to include additional information from Donna Mae Baukat and Motel Durango. smullane@durangoherald.com

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