An Email Conversation with Mayor Rey about Hope Haven and the Travel Inn Closure


Originally, I had no plans to publish this email exchange. It was just me as Joan Q. Public, sending an opinion on a budget allocation to His Honor and to other DeKalb city council members I thought might be receptive. I expected a generic “thanks for the input” response, which would have been fine.

But the conversation, which began in June, became extraordinary and eventually sparked a Freedom of Information Act request; and after digesting the response to that request, I’ve decided to share the emails with you.

Here’s the background. DeKalb city council uses its legislative budget in part to make grants to various local social service agencies, and the grant allocations currently total $150,000 per year. However, it came out during the budget workshops that the DeKalb chapter of the American Red Cross was no longer applying for these grants.

Council members could choose to reduce the total allocation by the old Red Cross amount of $7,000 or to re-allocate it. During the budget workshop they seemed inclined toward the latter.

It immediately came to mind to make a case for local homeless shelter Hope Haven — for good reasons, I thought.

So here’s how it started:

Dear Mayor and Council Members:

As usual, I am monitoring the annual city budget process with great interest. Congratulations on the imminent passage of an improved FY15 budget and on the smart hire of a city manager that helped to make it possible.

One related conversation that I’ve been following is about the annual Legislative allocation for human services funding. I understand that the American Red Cross no longer applies for this funding, and that this has left some $7,000 to be allocated of the $150,000 budgeted total that Council seems disinclined to cut.

In that case, I have a suggestion. The City of DeKalb has made at least two changes in the past year (elimination of a de facto downtown warming center and closure of a local motel) that have increased the need for services at Hope Haven. It makes sense to me to fund this worthy agency at a higher level next year to help cover the increased expenses that have resulted from actions of the City.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mayor Rey responded promptly.

Lynn – Thank you for your input on this. As always your attention to city matters is appreciated.

We are giving serious consideration to the Human Services funding in the FY15 budget. The commitment to this historical support is a concern of council.

Thinking about recent city actions, fortunately, Barb City Manor has stepped up to cover emergency shelter for residents. The closure of the local motel was not a result of city causation. We were merely enforcing health/sanitary living condition standards for short-term rental available to visitors. The warming center needs are referred to non-emergency police contact.

This was more information than I expected so I responded in return, as a means of expressing gratitude and approval as well as to confirm understanding of the message.

Dear Mayor Rey,

Thank you very much for your response — and the “bonus” information you’ve provided is fantastic! As far as I had previously been aware, Barb City Manor had stepped up specifically to help shelter the Southmoor Estates residents during tornado warnings. To find out that BCM has also volunteered use of the building as an emergency shelter for everyone, including warming up our homeless citizens in extreme cold, gladdens me and will be welcome news to my readers as well.

However, the part of the mayor’s response where he said the city did not cause the closure of Travel Inn disturbed me, so to the above in the same message I added:

As regards events at the Travel Inn, it was not my intention to cast blame in any way. I merely wanted to point out that nothing happens in a vacuum. The Travel Inn closure very well could mean increased demand on Hope Haven this summer just as the nightly closure of the Municipal Building ended up straining the organization’s resources last winter. Acknowledging these impacts via consideration of additional funding doesn’t seem out of bounds to me — especially in view of the 25% reduction in city funding they suffered a few years ago that has never been restored.

While we are on the subject of homelessness and shelter, may I also take an opportunity to suggest consideration of a review of ordinances by the Human Rights Commission with a view to ensuring the rights of our homeless and on-the-edge citizens. For an example of need, I was surprised to discover that the hotel/motel inspection process includes no provision for notifying “guests” of imminent eviction even if they meet the city’s definition of permanent residents. The Human Rights Commission did a fine and thorough job in clarifying the rights of people who use service animals and I’m sure would do right by these other vulnerable populations as well.

And from His Honor:

Lynne – I didn’t mean to imply Barb City Manor being a 24-hour warming center. This would be their board’s decision. Our agreement was specific to their serving as shelter to Southmoor Estates.

The City is very sensitive to dispersing permanent residents from short-term rentals onto the streets. It is my understanding Lynne that due notice is given upon such displacements.

The claim of due notice is where the Freedom of Information Act request came in. I asked for copies of notices, correspondence, etc., sent to guests, tenants and residents of Travel Inn (and one other local motel). The city responded that it could not locate any such records.

The set of emails and the FOIA response are yours for the asking. Use the contact form below and I will forward them to you.

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Please forward me Hope Haven emails and FOIA request as described in your 7/27/2014 post.’ type=’checkbox’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]