By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
Rutland Mayor Dave Allaire ordered the Quality Inn to shut down after city and state inspectors found numerous health and safety violations at the motel. Around 40 people experiencing homelessness, currently housed there, will need to relocate immediately.
Other motels in Rutland have the capacity to accept those displaced by the situation, a state official said.
The motel voucher program was created at the beginning of the pandemic to allow Vermonters experiencing homelessness to socially distance, which wasn’t possible in traditional shelters. The program has largely kept those it serves safe from Covid-19 — as of March, no one in the program had died from the virus — and has been heralded by some as a solution to homelessness.
The Quality Inn, however, has faced problems for months.
Since November, the inn has seen one instance of homicide and another instance of involuntary manslaughter. In November, police found a 35-year old man from Holyoke, Massachusetts, in a room with a gunshot wound to his chest. Then, in April, an accidental shooting killed a 19-year-old man.
Last week, Allaire said, a non-fatal overdose occurred at the inn, prompting him to take an action he had considered for several months. Last week health and safety inspectors visited the Inn and found a long list of health violations. On Wednesday, Allaire ordered that the motel close. Allaire said he’s been working with the owners of the motel since March.
“It really became clear, just in the last several weeks, that there was no substantive progress being made,” he said.
When reached, the front desk clerk at the Quality Inn said the owners are not commenting to the press.
Tricia Tyo, deputy commissioner of economic services with the Department for Children and Families, who runs the state’s emergency housing program, said she knows of other instances in which municipalities or motel owners have closed specific rooms due to health code violations, but it’s unusual for a motel in the state program to close entirely.
“We are in the process of locating alternative hotel rooms in the Rutland area for everybody,” she said. “As far as we know, we have capacity in other places, so we haven’t run into any problems yet.”
Based on her communications with city officials over the past several months, she said she is not surprised that Allaire closed the motel, though it happened more quickly than she was expecting.
The motel was inspected Wednesday, according to a report from the Vermont Dept. of Public Safety’s Division of Fire Safety. The hotel’s owner met with a state health department official, city health officer, city building inspector, and Rutland’s fire chief and police chief.
The state’s report notes 26 violations. The door to the pool area was not secured from the lobby, and there was “inadequate protection from falling into empty pool.” Many doors did not have working latches, and pool chemicals were stored with cleaning chemicals. Violations in individual rooms ranged from hanging ceiling fans to exit doors screwed shut to doors that didn’t lock, causing parts of the site to be “easily accessible to public.”
“There were individuals that were coming into the building down there that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, in addition to the homeless families who really needed the help,” Allaire said. “So that was a big part of the problem.”
The city’s report, written by Kevin Blongy from the city department of building and zoning, listed its own violations, including doors from rooms to hallways that were “shattered with large cracks” and “repaired with spray foam and black tape.” Many windows didn’t open, and some were screwed shut. Paint and paint supplies were stacked in front of electrical and fire alarm panels. A safety railing on the second floor was “completely unattached from the wall.”
In one room, an active garden hose was attached to the pipe beneath the sink, and the carpet was “saturated with water.” The same room had “sheetrock ripped off the wall with visible mold present on the back of the sheetrock to the adjoining room.”
The city’s report also describes “filthy” toilets, missing toilet seats, missing shower rods and broken furniture.
Allaire said he would have closed the property sooner if he wasn’t worried about displacing the families who sheltered there. It was an “action of last resort,” he said.
“The condition of the property was really uninhabitable in a lot of ways,” Allaire said. “There were families still living down there through the state program, so I had no other choice than to make the decision to order the building closed.”
Tyo said the emergency housing program is not responsible for inspecting or ensuring the safety of the participating motels. “There’s a whole cadre of people that do this job to make sure that these places are safe for the public to inhabit, not just us,” she said. “We’re placing people in places that are open to the public as well. I’m not familiar with the system, but there is a system, and it’s not us.”
The experience has made Allaire critical of the motel voucher program as a whole, he said, and called the program “flawed.” He said sending residents onto the street isn’t a good option, either.
“There needs to be a third way to deal with the issue,” he said.
Holiday Inn also sees increased incidents, scrutiny
State and local police have also reported an increase of incidents at the Holiday Inn in Rutland Town — particularly over the past two months — and the hotel faces increased scrutiny as a result. Similar to the Quality Inn, some guests housed there using state vouchers have been culprits in the incidents.
On April 3, video footage showed Brendan Wong, 27 and transient, climbing over the front desk and taking money from the register. He was charged with petty larceny.
On April 9, state police responded to a reported theft at Hannaford Supermarket. Troy Golfin, 23 and transient, admitted to taking items from the store without paying. He was issued a citation and released. He was living at the Holiday Inn at the time.
On April 12, police responded to a vandalism complaint and found Tyler Bushey, 27 and transient, in the parking lot “actively damaging a vehicle,” according to reports. The vehicle belonged to Michael Gould, 71, of Rutland. The damage exceeded $2,000, resulting in a charge of felony unlawful mischief.
In early May, the Rutland Town Select Board voted to deny the hotel’s liquor license application. Police told the board at that hearing that five of the 29 calls answered in one week were at the hotel and another seven in the surrounding area.
Polly Mikula contributed to this report.