What if the homeless no longer had to be without a warm bed on a cold night?
Just stop and think about that for a minute. Imagine you’re a mother with two young children and you’ve run out of options. Your car is nearly out of gas. The temperature is in the single digits. It’s New Years Eve and you have nowhere to go. Goodwill Inn is full, and the other shelters in town won’t allow children. You call a crisis center and the best advice they can give is to find a store that’s open 24-hours and keep moving. With two children? All night?
This is the call that Kathy Kelly answered one night while volunteering at a crisis center. It’s also the reason Kathy has been honored by Choice Hotels — recognition for the choice she made to help this mother, and many more, with a warm bed for the night.
That bitter evening Kathy made a decision. “I run a hotel and we have a room. I’m going to send them over there.” Working with the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, and Third Level Crisis Intervention Center, Kathy was able to house this family for the night through the use of the hotel voucher system. The vouchers are obtained by those in crisis and presented to hotels willing to participate in the program. Hotels are reimbursed at a reduced rate for the room. A room that would otherwise sit vacant.
Hotel occupancy in the coldest months can average 65% in Traverse City. That’s a lot of rooms. That option alone could give a warm bed to anyone who finds themselves desperate for shelter with nowhere else to go. In this economic climate the face of homelessness has changed. In many cases it’s families who have found themselves in a situation they never expected. “I think we all know that just a couple changes in circumstances and that could be any of us,” said Kathy.
In 2014 Sleep Inn & Suites Acme received roughly 100 vouchers to provide shelter for those in need. They also worked with Cherry Capital Cab owner Doug Dornbos, who offered transportation support. Thanks to Kathy’s commitment to grow the voucher program six more lodging properties have come on board.
Kathy acknowledges she couldn’t have joined this program without the support of the hotel ownership. At an event to honor Kathy’s efforts as a community hero, hotel owner Rob Rodenroth fully supported Kathy’s decision. “We just said yes. We can’t imagine that feeling – where do you go? What do you do? You’re helpless.”
This program is making a difference in Traverse City. Meanwhile Kathy is looking at the big picture. “I took it to Choice Hotels only to say, hey we’ve created a model here that could work – it is working. You have hotels in every city, in every state of this Country. You can take this on at a much bigger level.” Thanks to Kathy’s passion and persistence they are inclined to listen.
Choice Hotels recognized Kathy Kelly with a 2014 Service Hero Award for her commitment to helping the homeless. Traverse Traveler is proud to share her story with the hope that it inspires more Traverse City hotels to join the effort to help the homeless in our community, one room at a time. Congratulations Kathy!