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Fife Travelodge owner can seek redress through courts, says city

The Fife Travelodge. (KIRO 7 TV)

One week after dozens of people staying in a Fife motel without paying were removed by Fife police, the city says the motel owner will have to turn to the courts to recoup the losses.

Advocacy group Tacoma Housing Now booked rooms for more than 40 people experiencing homelessness at the Fife Travelodge on Christmas Eve — but stopped paying after that first night. The group said the goal was to raise awareness of homelessness, and wanted local government to step in and pay.

Fife City Manager Hyun Kim said the hotel owner “had a big heart” and initially tried to work with the occupants, but the loss of funds was threatening his business.

The Travelodge owner told police at the time that he would have to start laying off employees if he had to keep giving away rooms for free.

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“The Travelodge was harmed,” Kim said. “A lot of the paying guests left, they checked out because they feared for their safety.”

Kim does not believe the city has given financial aid to the hotel manager thus far, but he noted that the motel owner has the right to seek redress from those responsible in court.

“There is going to be recourse for the hotel owner in terms of the civil courts,” he said.

Before asking the occupants to leave the motel, the city offered each person shelter through Tacoma Rescue Mission.

“Of all the people who were offered accommodation that night, it looks like only three took us up on that. … That’s a little bit troubling to hear,” Kim said.

He said some of the people who turned down the offer told him they had a problem with some of the regulations at the shelter.

“A hotel room where you don’t have to check in with anyone or have a case manager, that’s something that was different about what we were offering,” he said.

In addition to the three who accepted offers of shelter, two others staying at the motel were identified as having COVID-19 and taken to a quarantine shelter. Kim said health officials helped them get to safety.

“There is a silver lining to this — there are three individuals who took a step toward more permanent housing. … I wish them well,” he said.

He called Tacoma Housing Now’s goals admirable, but said he disagreed with the method used in this case. His question for Tacoma Housing Now was, “How does it serve your purpose to take care of the homeless if it means that people lose their jobs from this facility having to shutter down?”

The City of Fife says it is committed to helping find new ways to combat homelessness, but it will not tolerate lawbreaking. The city recently dedicated a portion of sales tax toward affordable housing.

“Our elected officials are firmly behind finding a viable solution, but it involves having people talking instead of holding absolute positions that infringe on others’ rights,” Kim said.

KIRO Radio reached out to the Travelodge owner and to Tacoma Housing Now for comment, but has not yet received a response.

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