'The hidden homeless'

Emily pays $920 a month to be homeless. "I'll be honest with you, it's a very expensive homeless," she said. After she was laid off from her job as a nurse, the single mother of three was forced to move with her kids to a motel on Ferry St. They've been there more than four months, in a family suite with two rooms. It's not how Emily wants to live. When the school bus comes to the motel in the morning to pick up her kids, they get teased. Space is tight. The grocery shopping is frequent because the fridge in the suite is small. "I've found it's like you don't see a light at the end of tunnel," Emily said. "Once you get into a motel, people say you can't get worse than that. Once you get in there, you can't get out." Emily said she's not alone in her motel plight, and local people who work on the homelessness issue agree. "I'm not the only one out there. There are many of us out there," Emily said, pointing down the street to the motels on Lundy's Lane. Emily was standing in a vacant Lundy's Lane parking lot where the Salvation Army's Niagara Mobile Outreach truck has stopped for a few hours. The unit, which resembles a food truck, provides free food and supplies to those who come asking. It makes the rounds in Niagara Falls on Friday nights. The reason the mobile unit stops on Lundy's Lane is because of the sheer number of people living in the motels, said Karen Puddicombe of the Salvation Army. "We have found this to be a really productive area because of the amount of homelessness on this strip of Lundy's Lane, with the low-rental motels," Puddicombe said. "We've found it's really good for people without kitchen units, so they can get a good solid meal." "This is not tourists," Emily said. On this night, the mobile unit is giving out chili. Emily clutches a brown paper bag filled with enough Styrofoam bowls of chili for her and her kids. All around her, snow is falling. Emily said it's more expensive to live in a motel than to pay rent. She was then asked the obvious — why not just live in an apartment? Why bother living in a motel? Emily said it's all about saving up for first and last month's rent. In a motel, residents pay by the month. People who don't have the means to save two months rent give up looking for apartments and end up in one of the motels on the lane. "It's actually almost impossible to save up while you're there because you're putting up so much," she said, adding she receives employment insurance. "Now, my total income is $1,100 a month, so after I'm done paying the $920 a month, I'm left with just a little bit."

Publication Date: 
January 12, 2012
Journal Name: 
Niagara Falls Review