Instant noodle cups, canned beans and boxes of microwaveable popcorn line what little shelf space Alvin and Marian Catron have in their motel room, where they have been living for the last four months.

Alvin’s heart medication and tissue boxes are neatly arranged on the nightstand. The beds are tightly tucked as if a maid visited recently.

“Our daughter did them,” Marian said. “She does a very good job.”

The couple and their adult daughter, who is mentally disabled, were grandfathered into their room at the Motel 6 in Roseburg. Had they tried renting a room last month, they would have been denied. That is when the motel implemented a new policy: “As of 4-7-17, we are no longer accepting guests from Douglas County,” read a sign taped to its front desk last week. “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

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A shelf space doubles as a small pantry area for the Catron family who are living in the Roseburg Motel 6 while they seek affordable housing options in Roseburg on May 2.

Alvin and Marian are in their 70s. They once owned a house on West Esperanza Court in Roseburg, near where the Interstate 5 freeway crosses the South Umpqua River. After living in the home for 20 years, they received a notice of foreclosure.

The foreclosure was a long time in the making. Marian was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, just a few years after Alvin had his second heart surgery. The family poured money into her chemotherapy treatments and eventually found itself thousands of dollars in debt.

“We had to pay the price for the cancer, which I don’t feel bad about at all,” Alvin said. “So we went broke and we don’t care because we’re old. We don’t need credit no more.”

The Catrons lost their house last December. They packed what they could into a storage truck and the rest went to the sheriff’s department. They have been living at the Motel 6 ever since as they look for a home to rent.

That’s not an easy task in Douglas County. Property management companies and nonprofits say their rental vacancy rates hover between 1 and 3 percent. The U.S. Census had the county’s rental vacancy rate at 5.8 percent in 2010.

“We’re seeing people living in cars, living in tents, doubling up, doing what they need to do to survive,” said Mike Fieldman, executive director of the United Community Action Network in Roseburg. “Until the housing market improves statewide, it’s a problem. And motels become an option. Hopefully, they continue to allow people to stay there because the alternative option for some people is homelessness.”

The Catrons have made accommodations to live comfortably in their small room. Marian uses the microwave and a crock pot to heat family meals. She is to credit for the neatly packed shelves, the organized collection of toothbrushes and medicines by the bathroom sink, the spotless floors. She works as a maid in a nearby hotel, so she insists on cleaning her own room and making their beds. The Motel 6 staff never enter their room.

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Marian Catron discusses the difficulties her family has encountered in seeking affordable housing in Roseburg while living at Motel 6 in Roseburg.

AFFORDABILITY

People who are suddenly rendered homeless often seek temporary shelter at a nearby motel. For that reason, the Oregon Housing Authority conducts homeless counts in motels.

Many long-term motel guests don’t have enough immediate cash on hand for a down payment on a home. Motels are thereby a cheaper short-term option — a Band Aid that temporarily covers up homelessness — but they are extraordinarily more expensive in the long run.

Alvin said he doesn’t know how much longer he and his family can afford to live at Motel 6. They are paying $1,500 a month; that’s about $450 more than it would cost to rent the average two-bedroom house in Eugene, according to Zillow data.

The Catrons are living off Marian’s hourly wages, as well as social security from Alvin’s retirement and Susan’s disability. It’s not much.

“It’s like living on the river,” Alvin said. “I’m totally homeless. I used to help the homeless; that’s what I did when I retired, not knowing that I would be in their shoes one day.”

Fieldman and UCAN staff help people like the Catrons by connecting them with UCAN’s affordable housing units. But the nonprofit, and others like it across the county, have months-long waiting lists. He said he hopes the wait does not discourage people from reaching out.

“People should never self-select themselves out of applying,” he said. “Even though we may have a long waiting list, their particular unique needs may actually bump them up our priority list.”

BANNING LOCALS

The News-Review contacted major lodging facilities across Roseburg. At least one other hotel is not renting to Douglas County residents: the Holiday Inn. Roseburg employees with the Holiday Inn and Motel 6 declined to comment.

The policy of banning local guests seems to be common, at least in Medford, where several motels will not rent to people living within a 30-mile radius.

One Medford motel employee, who asked to go unnamed, said residents cause problems and are more likely to leave drug paraphernalia behind. By contrast, an employee at a different Medford motel said drug abusers come from all places.

“That’s really anywhere; even people from out of town, they’ve left stuff in rooms before, too,” said Kayla Johnson.

She added that locals know people in the area, so they are more likely to have visitors and make noise.

Area of residence is not a protected class, so the motels’ ban is not considered direct discrimination by state or federal standards. Banning residents from a specific county, however, could have an indirect impact on a protected class of people.

“What’s the makeup of residents of Douglas County?” said Allan Lazo, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Oregon. “Who are we excluding with a policy like that? In some cases, you might be excluding people with disabilities who are recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism.”

Disparate impact cases are hard to prove, Lazo said, because it’s hard to get the right statistics. As for fair housing rules, motel guests that stay longer than 30 days are covered under Oregon’s landlord-tenant laws. That’s because such extended reservations would no longer fall under the state’s definition of “transient occupancy.” Even so, Lazo said he doubted those guests would be protected by state fair housing laws.

Fieldman is not sure how he feels about the motels’ bans on local guests. He said he wishes people would not have to resort to living in motels at all.

“What I’d prefer is that everybody who wants an apartment, a home, a place to live on a permanent basis — they’d get it,” he said. “That’s what I’d prefer. That’s what I want. We’re far from that.”

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(16) comments

Kathleen Nelson

Hope April will follow up on the Motel 6 story.

Old Tobi

So if a Douglas County resident's bathroom is torn up for repairs and they're thinking it would be great to take the dogs and spend a couple days in a motel...they have to go to the next county?
If a person's roommate gets drunk and aggressive and they think it would be better to get out before getting hurt, they have to go to the next county for a motel room? Despite good credit and no criminal history?
Denying services to an entire class of folks no one ever suspected needed to be listed as a "protected class" violates the spirit of the law if not the law itself.
The motels can choose to allow "extended stay guests" or not. But singling out a group of people based on residency is absurd and asking the State of Oregon to amend its constitution to make this illegal is also absurd.

Mogie

Like there are no other motels in the area? They did this for economic reasons. Some people were destroying their property and causing trouble for other patrons. So the answer was to not rent to local residents anymore. They are in business to make money not to babysit people.

rocknroll

Well tourist time they make more money thats why they kicked them out sort of speaking.

Old Tobi

Makes sense. Extended stay guests pay lower rates than one-nighters. And a policy to disallow extended stay guests regardless of where they come from would be legal. And making money off extended-stay guests in winter who have to leave for the summer season is common practice in resort areas. But here we have two problems -- the lack of affordable housing everywhere in Oregon and the exclusion of guests based on a perfectly legal status of being a local resident. I lived at a resort property one winter and understood that by the middle of April I'd need to find new housing...that these folks have no place to go really isn't the concern of the motel, but, sadly, of all of us.

Mogie

If you are below the poverty level you should qualify for food stamps, Oregon Health Care Plan, help on your electric bill, 1/2 cord of free firewood each year, a free cell phone and minutes, food boxes, free clothes, free furniture, and much more.

Mogie

Rent a room from someone. There are low income folks out there that could benefit from renting out a spare room. A lady I know lives in a small RV parked on a piece of property. She is clean, safe and happy in that RV (that was given to her by a caring church member). She doesn't have a lot but she is independent and loving her freedom. She doesn't have a car but racks up a lot of miles on her tennis shoes!

HomelessJ

That's not feasible for a lot of the people who are homeless here. There's a family of 3 featured in the article, do you think they can just rent a single room from someone? My mother and I are homeless, we're not drug abusers, not mentally ill, we've been applying for homes/apartments for months and haven't found anything, and you just say we should rent an RV from someone? A lot of us have been homeless for months and it feels like there isn't any way out, and that the local government is trying to hide us instead of addressing a serious housing problem. It's just not that easy for most of us, and if it was, motels wouldn't be banning people from our county because of it. This is a serious problem that isn't being taken seriously by a lot of people, including you, and that needs to change before this problem gets any better.

Mogie

What the he!! makes you think I don't take this seriously? I have worked with a man who was homeless in Wyoming. He lived in a cave for at least one Wyoming winter. Just because the alternatives I mentioned didn't suit you there is no reason to bad mouth someone for providing ideas. Those ideas are working for others on my block. I was trying to be helpful and didn't need you to attack me for trying to be helpful. At least I responded with some type of solution that is better then sitting back and ignoring this topic. Renting out a room is better then no home at all!

Mogie

If you read you will see that the vast majority of homeless people are dealing with some sort of addiction or mental problem (that is well documented). The main reason for the ban from local motels is the destruction and violent behavior associated with this (check police logs to see those details). I am assuming that if you can afford to stay in a motel (even part of the time) you have a bigger income then I do. Government has been and is dealing with the homeless problem. Maybe you aren't getting the answers you want or think they are taking too long but people are working on this problem. You have no idea how seriously someone takes this problem (unless you are physic). It has hit VERY close to home for my family. But we try to take care of family and friends as much as possible. Could I do better ... of course we all could do better at most things. Any home is better then no home.

Mogie

I did not say you should rent a RV from someone. I stated that a lady on my block was given an RV by her church (a very small older RV). That provides her with a safe , warm and comfortable place to live. Life isn't easy. Sometimes we have to do things that we would rather not but that is the way it is. I take this problem seriously and try to offer suggestions instead of just whining and gripping. It is easier to complain then it is to offer solutions or ideas. Most everyone can do better when it comes to money. Do you smoke, drink booze, eat junk food, drink sugar laden sodas, spend money on things that are not necessary. I know I do. Dam me and my milk addiction.

Old Tobi

At poverty level I qualify for $16 a month in food stamps. Fortunately I don't eat much. Medicare provides some coverage if I am hospitalized, but not access to ordinary preventive healthcare in Douglas County. The free cell phone service doesn't reach my community. There's no automatic utility assistance. Clothes and furniture etc could matter less when one lives in one's car. Stop pretending there's some sort of Poverty Safety Net for those at the edge...because a free cellphone hardly makes up for secure housing, a supportive family and good mental health.

Mogie

I guess I am frustrated by people that just complain and don't offer solutions. I am living below the poverty line. I haven't asked anyone for a money. If you budget your money you can do a lot with a little. Do you need cable, a expensive phone, magazine subscriptions, turn the thermostat down to 65 in the winter and just open windows in the summer, line dry your clothes, use firewood instead of electric heat, cook from scratch, eat more fruit and veggies, raise the deductible on your car insurance, don't water your lawn, recycle the water out of your clothes washer and water shrubs with it, dry fruit that usually goes to waste (like apples), rent out a room for extra income, buy clothes and household items from places like the Salvation Army, carpool, don't buy drinks out (like coffee and soda), clean out your closet and have a garage sale, see if you can mow your neighbors yard for a few bucks, put a timer on your water heater if it was made before the year 2000, turn your oven off 5 minutes before the cook cycle is over, if you leave a room turn the lights off, collect cans (they are a good way to come up with some gas money), don't eat out, pack your own lunches or snacks, etc... The point is every dime adds up. We all can do more with less. Sometimes we just need to get a little creative. Every little bit helps.

Mogie

Geeze can't believe I forgot the biggies. Don't smoke and don't drink booze. They are expensive and cause severe (sometimes deadly) health problems.

Mogie

Don't dwell on what you don't have be happy for what you do have because there are people out there that have less then you do. This applies to ALL of us. I offered you suggestions if they weren't good enough for you tough. At least I gave you something to go on. Be more responsible with what you have. Even someone on a TINY income can save money. Maybe the reason you don't get more in food stamps is that an older person that doesn't have kids just doesn't qualify for much. Most people don't save money for the older years and end up short of funds. A person's inability to save shouldn't be societies problem. The choices you make are not societies doing either. They were choices you made. Not my problem that most folks don't have a regular savings plan. Not my problem if people spend their money on cigarettes or booze and have none left over. It is called financial planning or just plain common sense. Even if you just save a little less then $10 a month that adds up to over a $100 a year. If you don't absolutely need something then live without it.

Mogie

I know that sharing the info on what is available to low income people won't necessarily help their housing status but if everyone shared the info they had instead of being secretive (I don't know why some people guard this type of info but many do) more people could use these programs. I have a friend who is near homelessness and was paying for a cell phone and minutes that he didn't need to be doing. There are some resources out there and it would help if all that info was shared. But not a word unless you specifically ask when signing up for food stamps.

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