THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR, JUNE 12, 2013
The hotel is closed, but you wouldn’t know by looking at it.
The faded sign out front still advertises rooms for rent — low prices, $45 daily plus tax.
The front office is open.
City Motor Hotel owner Ted Dabrowski stands behind the counter, dressed in a suit. The vacancy board indicates six tenanted rooms. Water and cable have been cut, but people are still sleeping here despite the fact that the City of Hamilton is scheduled to take possession of the hotel on Thursday.
The Queenston Road property was expropriated by the city in 2012. Councillor Sam Merulla says they plan to demolish the building and turn it into a residential/commercial site with a transit hub.
“This is removing a blight on our community that was basically the largest prostitution and crack house in the city,” he says.
He says all residents will be taken care of, noting that the city’s Housing Services Division has been working with local agencies (including the Hamilton Housing Help Centre and Supporting Our Sisters at Good Shepherd) to help tenants find new places to live.
Not all of them have taken advantage. On Wednesday afternoon, the only moving truck in the parking lot is carrying furniture away from Lord’s Ministry House — a church that occupied the hotel’s former restaurant.
No one at City Motor attended the Ministry. A few tenants may have wandered in from time to time, says the maintenance man, but not many.
“People around here aren’t the religious type,” he says, leaning over the second floor railing, a cigarette in one hand and a tallboy of Old Milwaukee in the other. He looks down at the swimming pool in the centre of the courtyard.
Each of the hotel’s 98 rooms front onto this pool — empty except for wrappers and a foot of brown water.
Some units are empty. Clean besides the smell of cigarettes and phone numbers written on the 70s-era wallpaper. Others are full of belongings. An unopened case of Vess Cola by the window and a deck of cards scattered across the bed. A milk-filled baby bottle on the dresser and a toothbrush on the floor. A mouse running over a grocery bag and fruit flies circling the drain in the bathroom’s pink-tiled tub.
Still others are occupied by people like Linda Jose, 43, who moved in on May 28. She hated it from day one, but had nowhere else to go. Other hotels wouldn’t allow her Husky, Chinook.
It doesn’t matter now. In June, she and her fiancé are moving to British Columbia, where he’s from. They met online at the beginning of May and he came here at the end of the month. He proposed to her last week, at City Motor, even though they’ve done nothing but fight since they arrived. Jose blames the hotel.
“This place is evil,” she says.
A neighbour recently chased her with a hammer, claiming Jose had stolen something. On Tuesday, two men got in a fight. One beat the other, then tried to stab him.
“I was going ‘This is crazy, man! This place is NUTS!'” Jose says. “I mean, every day something happens. Every day. It doesn’t matter what it is. Somebody screaming at somebody or somebody punching somebody out or somebody doing a drug deal.”
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Radoslaw Szczepanski doesn’t think it’s so bad. He says you’d get the same at any hotel.
“It’s not like your own apartment so you can go to the super and tell him to tell them so shut up. So you have to survive,” he laughs. “You just have to try and survive the night, you know?”
Szczepanski, 47, has stayed at City Motor in the past, but never more than a few days. He moved here 10 days ago when his dad threw him out for having “a little drink.” (“After 7 or 8 p.m., I need some time for me,” he says.)
He’s less concerned with where he’ll sleep Thursday night than he is with convincing a Cogeco employee who is on-site to hook up his TV for Thursday morning. He says he’ll probably end up down the street at Red Rose Motel even though another week in a hotel will clean him out (he’s looking for work as a welder or millwright).
Larry Huibers, executive director of the Housing Help Centre, says they’ve offered $800 to singles and couples ($1,500 to families of a certain size) through the Housing Stability Benefit. The money is meant to find new homes, but people have to be moving into apartments, not hotels, to qualify.
That didn’t help Jose, who’s on disability due to health problems. She took them up on the offer, but gave up when on learning she’s ineligible because she’s staying at another hotel until she moves west (a friend is watching Chinook). She says she visited a “loan store” instead. They gave her $340.
Clare Freeman, executive director of Interval House, says options are limited. “We have a housing crisis for folks who are on marginal incomes and I’m really, truly going to say it is a crisis in this city.”
She says shelters are full and the wait-list for subsidized housing is deplorable. Unless you can get priority status (fleeing a violent partner, for example), you’ll wait five to eight years.
Huibers agrees it’s a challenge, but one thing is clear — City Motor is no longer an option.
Merulla says if the property isn’t vacant by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, the city will “professionally intervene.”
“It is in their best interest to move ASAP from a $1,000-a-month, 200-square-foot living environment not conducive to public health or a quality of life they deserve,” he says.
“Hence we will do everything possible to help them help themselves in finding healthy accommodations. That is a guarantee.”