Looking for a cheap place to stay in Louisville, Ky., anytime soon? Might we suggest the Hotel Louisville, a former Holiday Inn where rooms start at just $49 per night — a price unheard of for a conveniently located, downtown hotel in any major city?
There’s only one catch. And depending on your propensity for charity, that one catch could be a dealbreaker — or deal maker.
The Hotel Louisville is not just a hotel; it’s a homeless shelter.
Actually, many of the hotel’s homeless residents — usually upwards of 100, most of them women in substance abuse recovery — hold “trainee” jobs at the hotel, where they receive up to $1.50 per hour to perform typical hotel functions, such as housekeeping and serving food in the hotel’s restaurant.
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For obvious reasons, there is no bar in this hotel.
Though they work for well below minimum wage, a fact which has raised suspicions from the federal Department of Labor, many workers accept the “trainee” jobs as a way to smooth their entry into the work force.
“It prepares you — your work ethic, how you treat people,” says recovering substance abuser Cheri Hartwill, who cleans rooms at the hotel. “Because a lot of us come from the streets.”
Not all of the homeless workers see it as a good deal, however.
“This isn’t training,” one woman, who didn’t want her name used, told the Al-Jazeera America TV network. “This is a business. These are actual jobs you’re performing. You’re not doing it to strengthen yourself for a job outside. This is a job inside.”
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The hotel is run by Wayside Christian Mission, which spent $10 million, pretty much its entire capital reserve, to buy the Holiday Inn at 120 West Broadway out of foreclosure four years ago.
The hotel’s revenue will top $1.4 million this year, a big help with Wayside’s $4.6 million annual budget.
Not everyone is thrilled by the Hotel Louisville experience. While the hotel has received some glowing online reviews from guests, it has garnered some horrified ones as well.
“They do not tell you they house homeless people,” read one review, quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. “The mattress had blood on side as well as brown spots all over it. Broken window along with a fire alarm broken and hanging from wall. It looked like someone had taken a crowbar to the door.”
Local police say that crime has increased around the hotel since it opened as a shelter, with 270 calls so far in 2013. But most of the calls come in response to fights between homeless residents or small-time drug deals, panhandling and drinking in public, police say.
“It’s not a particularly dangerous area to walk around,” Louisville Metro Police Lt. Shawn Hensler said. “When it opened, a lot of people thought it would be much worse.”
“We don’t apologize for what we are,” says the hotel’s chief operating officer, Nina Moseley. “Overall, it’s definitely been a success.”