Years ago, early in my career as a journalist, I took a break from work to go mountain climbing in Colorado. It was one of the best things I have ever done but it put me in a very precarious financial position once I returned from my trip. I was essentially “homeless” but was fortunate enough to have a friend willing to take me in until I got back on solid financial footing. As we all know, there are an incredible number of people in our country and on our planet, who are not so lucky.
Search on “homeless” on Green Lodging News and you will find many examples of hotel companies, nonprofits and suppliers helping those who are homeless. For example, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) and Las Vegas Sands will hold a Nevada Youth Homelessness Summit in November.
Homelessness was in the hospitality news this past week with the release of some survey results by the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. (AHLA). First, some background. Unite Here, the labor union whose members work predominantly in the hotel, food service, laundry, warehouse, and casino gaming industries, wants to house people experiencing homelessness in LA in hotels next to paying guests. The issue has become a focal point in its collective bargaining negotiations with LA-area hotels, with the union demanding that hotels support the practice. LA residents are set to vote in March 2024 on whether to require all local hotels to house unhoused individuals next to paying guests.
A Threat to the Tourism Industry
According to the AHLA survey of LA residents conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, while 98 percent of respondents say homelessness in the city is a crisis or major problem, large majorities of LA residents say housing homeless people in hotels next to paying guests would unfairly burden hotel staff (81 percent), devastate the city’s tourism industry (70 percent), and create an unsafe workspace for hotel staff (69 percent).
Other key survey findings include:
- 71 percent say LA cannot afford to implement a policy that would allow people experiencing homelessness to check into any hotel with vacant rooms for a night and be side-by-side in elevators, hallways, and dining facilities with paying guests.
- 66 percent say housing unhoused individuals in vacant hotel rooms alongside paying guests will lead to a sharp decline in hotel tax revenue and result in huge cuts to essential city services like public safety and education.
- 59 percent would be less likely to visit a city and stay in one of its hotels if they knew the city required all hotels to house people experiencing homelessness next to paying guests.
I reached out to Unite Here for comments but did not hear back. AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers said, “Undermining the safety and well-being of hotel employees is unfathomable, but that’s exactly what Unite Here is trying to do. Unite Here is fighting to fill all LA-area hotels with the same types of activities you see on Skid Row. If they succeed, they’ll jeopardize the safety of both hotel guests and workers, virtually destroy the city’s tourism industry, and cause massive job losses. Hotels are laser focused on employee safety and Unite Here should be too. That’s why we’re calling on Unite Here to drop its dangerous demand to turn hotels into homeless shelters—in LA or any other city where they might try it.”
Sharp Jump in Homelessness in LA
Just how bad is homelessness in LA? According to a late June Los Angeles Times article, homelessness continues to rise dramatically, increasing by 9 percent in Los Angeles County and 10 percent in the city of Los Angeles last year. According to a count conducted by thousands of volunteers during three days in January, it was projected that 75,518 people were living in interim housing or a tent, car, van, RV, tent, or makeshift shelter in Los Angeles County, compared with 69,144 the previous year. Since the 2015 count, homelessness has increased by 70 percent in the county and 80 percent in the city. New York City and LA lead the U.S. in total numbers of homeless people.
Homelessness is one of our country’s biggest challenges and highly complex. There are many reasons for homelessness. Converting hotels to shelters for the homeless has worked successfully and has helped some in crisis but it is not enough. I certainly don’t have the answers here, but it makes sense that any solution should involve all levels of government, nonprofits, and the private sector.
Forcing our industry to house people who happen to be homeless next to paying guests is just not the answer for many reasons. Efforts to do so highlight the desperate situation some cities are in and highlight our failure as a country and countries to properly prioritize this crisis.
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