Police, advocates, hotels partner for emergency housing

Police, advocates, hotels partner for emergency housing

Motel 88 in Oneonta does not have a happy history.

Formerly known as the Oasis Motor Inn, the lodging saw drug busts and suicides, and carried a local reputation for a generally seedy atmosphere.

To add to its unhappiness, a fire broke out last week, and it remains under investigation.

But according to the Oneonta Police Department, the criminal element at Motel 88, and other motels like it, is related to the temporary housing they provide.

The 66-room motel is located on Chestnut Street in Oneonta, across the street from Sloan’s New York Grill, and has a Chinese buffet and a karate dojo on the premises.

Some high-profile examples of criminal activity that occurred at the motel over the years include three men arrested in 2014 with 146 bags of heroin, worth $3,600, and a Cortland man arrested in a 2017 drug bust where OPD found $1,750 worth of drugs.

According to OPD, they received 113 calls for assistance from the motel last year with a total of 13 arrests at the motel.

Some of the charges associated with the arrests included criminal trespass, menacing with a weapon, possession of controlled substances, criminal contempt, and more.

OPD Chief Chris Witzenberg explained to The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta
that many of the problems come from people who are generally in some sort of crisis and are in desperate situations.

“It’s been better lately than it has in the past,” Chief Witzenberg said. “A lot of (Motel 88) is temporary housing. With that, there are people whose needs aren’t being met and their needs overlap with crimes of desperation. We’re talking about people who are impoverished and present themselves in a criminal way.”

In comparison, the Townhouse Inn on Main Street has had 26 arrests last year, which Chief Witzenberg explained was due to heavier foot traffic and a nearby bus stop.

He said the same people often make up a large number of arrests in a particular area.

“One person is responsible for about a third of incidents,” he said of crimes at the Townhouse Inn. “One person could be responsible for the bulk of our calls in these situations.”

OPD received 105 calls for assistance from the Townhouse Inn last year.

“Occasionally, we’ll have people who are more problematic than others,” Chief Witzenberg said.

Crisis Intervention Director from Opportunities for Otsego (OFO) William Rivera said that they have contracts with local motels, including Motel 88, to provide temporary housing assistance for those who are housing insecure.

He said each year about 60 people utilize OFO’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program.

“We use (motels) for individuals who are eligible for temporary housing through our program,” Mr. Rivera said. “The goal is getting them through the night until they can find housing or securing housing with friends or family. It’s very, very temporary.”

He said it is important that they secure “increased funding for all these services for vulnerable populations.”

“We only have one homeless shelter here in Oneonta and it’s not a walk-in shelter,” Mr. Rivera said. “I think the discussion should really begin with the lack of safe and affordable housing in the community.”

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