Mashpee Motel Providing A Brief Respite For The Homeless
By: Elsa H. Partan
The business owner who clashed with town officials for allowing long-term guests at his motel is expanding his services for the homeless.
Starting this month and continuing until June, the co-owner of La Plaza del Sol motel on Route 130 will be hosting four homeless women one week each month.
Peter A. White has been providing reduced rates to homeless and low-income individuals since he purchased the 19-unit motel in September 2007. The long-term guests have stayed on, despite an order from the Town of Mashpee in 2008, which demanded that Mr. White stop allowing guests to stay for more than 30 days. He is fighting the action and has an upcoming court date of April 27.
People who currently live at the motel as long-term guests say they are grateful for his help. One woman, who fled an abusive partner, said that God must have led her to Mr. White’s motel.
Meantime, his latest project to offer a weeklong stay to homeless women comes out of a chance meeting with like-minded people combined with the generosity of a tiny religious group.
Mr. White, who recently announced that he will run for the US Senate seat now held by Scott Brown, recently hatched the idea after joining the 12-person Quaker organization known as Barnstable Friends Meeting, which is associated with Mattapoisett Monthly Meeting.
There he met two other advocates for the homeless, one of whom, Alan Burt of Barnstable, is a founding member of Overnights of Hospitality. That program began to give homeless people overnight stays in churches across Cape Cod in response to the elimination of a homeless tent camp in Hyannis in 2001.
Providing motel rooms is a new concept for Overnights of Hospitality, which consists of a network of 40 churches in nine towns from Falmouth to Orleans. The program is coordinated by the Salvation Army in Hyannis and the Cape Cod Council of Churches.
Each church provides a handful of homeless men and women a warm place to sleep and a meal for a night or two each month. But when a few churches dropped out of the program over the last year, Mr. Burt was left with holes to fill.
He began to talk about the problem with Mr. White and Dennis resident Rachel Carey-Harper, both members of the Barnstable Friends Meeting. He told them that, as loving and welcoming as the 40 church groups are, it is disruptive for the homeless to move to a new location each day. Also, the churches drop off their homeless guests at 7 each morning in Hyannis, which can make for a very long day on the street, he said.
The three decided that a weeklong stay in Mr. White’s motel would allow a homeless woman to relax and take care of herself. Mr. White said he would reduce his rate to $28 a night and the Barnstable Friends Meeting members resolved to donate $400 each month to cover the expense of housing four women, bunked two to a room, for one week. They would end the program in June, when Mr. White would return to his summer rate of $95 a night.
Mr. White’s first Overnights of Hospitality guests arrived on January 1. The women were in their 40s and 50s, Mr. White said.
“We got some hugs at the end of the week,” he said. “It helped some of our other guests to see how well these women are holding up under the strain of all of the things they have to deal with.”
Mr. Burt hopes that other motels will follow the lead of La Plaza del Sol in offering a weeklong stay at a reduced rate. Many Cape Cod motels that close down over the winter could instead provide shelter for homeless people during the most punishing months of weather, he said. Churches could raise the money to pay the motels’ expenses.
“We’re putting a challenge out there,” he said. “Perhaps we could add a second week at a motel, then a third week.”
Ms. Carey-Harper said Mr. White “fit right in” at the small Quaker Meeting when he began to attend about a year ago. Finding housing for the homeless is a natural extension of her faith, she said, and something that quickly led to the collaboration with Mr. White.
“It was a spiritual leading,” she said. “Our job is to be the hands and feet and to do the important work. Whether you agree with Peter or not, or whether he pushes your buttons or not, he’s walking the walk.”
Long-Term Guests Stay On
While Mr. White’s latest endeavor involves overnight stays of one week, his motel continues to house low-income people for months at a time.
When 39-year-old Rochelle M. Tobey walked into the office at La Plaza Del Sol four months ago, she saw what she took to be a good sign.
“There was an American flag hanging there, with a Native American in the middle,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ ”
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe member was fleeing an abusive eight-year relationship in New Bedford and sought help from her tribe to find a place to live on Cape Cod, where she grew up. Two of her children, now ages 9 and 16, went to live with an aunt in Mashpee. Her 18-year-old is studying at University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Finding a place for herself has been tough. After running into dead ends with various agencies, she had found herself riding around Mashpee with a case worker, when they pulled into Mr. White’s motel.
They worked out a plan—the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe would pay a reduced rate to keep Ms. Tobey sheltered until she could find permanent housing. Mr. White would do what he could to get Ms. Tobey back on her feet. That help has come in unexpected ways, Ms. Tobey said.
“I asked him if he knew anyone with a car who could give me a ride to the grocery store,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ll take you there myself.”
When she needed money for a prescription to treat depression, Mr. White paid the bill and told her to keep the $8 in change. He was there after she hung up the phone in frustration one day after battling with federal housing officials who told her a letter she sent never arrived.
Several of the residents of La Plaza Del Sol are employed in food service and retail stores in Mashpee, according to Mr. White. Among them is 31-year-old Laurie Beth Bowen, a Barnstable High School graduate who has worked at Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 130 for five years. Excluding one interruption, she has lived at the motel since October 2008. She pays $300 a week for a two-bedroom suite that she shares with her son, a 2nd grader in the Mashpee schools.
Although $1,200 a month may not sound like a bargain, Ms. Bowen said she can usually handle it by being careful with her salary of $8.75 an hour. If her paycheck is low because her son was home from school, she tries to make up the difference by working the front desk or cleaning rooms for Mr. White.
“It is more affordable than renting to me because you don’t need first, last, and security deposit,” she said. “There’s no way a single mother can come up with that.”
The motel also offers simplicity, she said.
“At least when I come home I still have heat, hot water, and cable. Where I was in Yarmouth, I was paying $700 a month for rent and that didn’t include any of that.”
Mr. White said he believes the law is on his side in allowing people to stay for extended periods, a position that the Mashpee Building Department challenged in 2008 when it ordered the motel to stop allowing guests to stay for more than 30 days.
“What we are doing is legal in Massachusetts, number one. Number two, we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
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