Lack of long-term housing is a struggle

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NEWPORT — Skies were gray as Charles Casper stood outside Motel 6 Thursday morning. Crows the size of house cats scooped up leftover food from the parking lot as cars sped by on the JT Connell Expressway.

“I don’t have any plans,” Casper said when asked where he would be going this afternoon. He had to leave the motel at 4 p.m.

Casper was among many people who had been staying at Motel 6 since Dec. 3 as part of a temporary, seasonal program to house the homeless. But the time was up on March 31. The agreement between Newport Mental Health and Motel 6 expired that day.

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Casper has a job lined up — he just landed a gig at The Wayfinder collapsible laundry — but no house. He starts his new job next week, despite having been without a place to live for two years.

“I went to jail. My mother passed away,” said Casper, who graduated from Middletown High School in 1994. His father, who worked at the Raytheon factory in Portsmouth, moved away.

“You get out of jail and you’re 40, and you can’t go to mom and dad anymore,” he said.

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It’s not just a lack of affordable housing, Casper said. It’s a total lack of housing. “Forget about affordability,” he said. “There are not any.”

“Band-Aid Solution” to a Larger Problem

Newport Mental Health helped set up temporary motel accommodations for homeless people in the winter of 2020, a seasonal arrangement that has been in effect for the following winters.

In 2020, Jamie Lehane, president and CEO of Newport Mental Health, told the Daily News that the motel’s temporary accommodations had served as a “band-aid solution during the pandemic, (and now) what we need, this are apartments.

Last year, while Newport Mental Health was able to help many people move from motels to alternative accommodations, Lehane told the Daily News on March 29 that it would be more difficult this time around with the lack of options for affordable housing and resources.

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“The difference between this year and last year (is that) last year we placed most of these people in real, affordable housing or with their families,” Lehane explained. “We had better provisions for them because, firstly, the number of homeless people was much lower – this year it exploded.

“And second, we had more housing options…affordable apartments are impossible to find here, let alone low-income or Section 8 people. So we actually have certificates to put people in apartments, but we don’t have landlords with apartments to rent for.”

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Late Thursday night, Lehane in a text message said all Motel 6 guests had lodging options. By 4 p.m. that day, all but one of the people had accommodation, he said.

The Motel 6 on JT Connell Highway in Newport.

“Not bad from where we were a few days ago,” Lehane said. “The only person (chosen) to refuse three options and go alone.”

Jimmy Winters, of the Housing Hotline and Homelessness Collaborative serving Newport County, arrived at Motel 6 late Thursday morning to help ease the exodus of people there.

He said four people were heading to the McKinney Cooperative Shelter in Washington Square and he was working with other organizations to get people to safety. He said there were about 80 people who needed accommodation.

“It’s just unreal,” Winters said. “Temporary to temporary.”

“Because I’m a criminal, I can’t find accommodation”

The Daily News spoke to people who took part in the temporary housing scheme hours before they left Motel 6 on Thursday morning.

Khy Jones’ motel room was tidy, and he grabbed the corner of his sheet and lifted it to show the frame underneath. It was a frame he said he installed, along with some new headboards.

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The headboards looked like dark wood and offered a more polished and modern aesthetic to the motel room. Jones undertook such renovation projects while employed by Motel 6, he said.

“I’m not leaving,” Jones said when asked what his plans were when the temporary motel deal expired. “You’re not just going to kick me out.”

Jones said he had been homeless all his life. He has been out of work for almost two weeks, he said, but took a call for a job prospect when the Daily News visited Motel 6. He works in construction, which is often sporadic .

“Because I’m a criminal, I can’t find housing,” Jones said.

It’s a grim situation on a gloomy day, but Jones has sunshine in the form of his 5-year-old son. Affixed to a mirror in his motel room was a piece of school art in the shape of a men’s tie. It was made by the boy, given to his father.

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“Go park,” the boy said in the “My favorite thing to do with my dad” section of the artwork, which Jones picked up and held in his hands for a reporter.

His father’s super power? “Strong muscles,” reads the fragile and sentimental diary.

Matt Brown said he temporarily stayed at Motel 6 to save money for a place of his own.

Matt Brown said he had accommodations in Bristol to move to once the motel scheme was completed, made possible by an employer. Brown works as a contractor.

He could have moved in with his girlfriend, he said, but he wanted a place of his own to support his 3-year-old son.

Brown graduated from Portsmouth High School in 2012.

“I don’t have any family,” he said as he began to explain how he ended up in the temporary motel housing program for the winter. His work truck was destroyed in a collision, he said, and he subsequently lost a lot of business without a vehicle.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to not have to pay and to save money,” he said of the motel program. “I worked all the time, as best I could.”

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