Red Cross Denies Help to Families

Motel Fire Leaves Parents and Kids Too Homeless to Qualify for Help

Diane Nilan
3 min readOct 13, 2023

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My film, Not Homeless Enough, https://vimeo.com/582680514
My film, Not Homeless Enough, https://vimeo.com/582680514

In an unexpected switcheroo, the Red Cross surprised me. They apparently have denied assistance to families burnt out of their humble abodes in a Ft. Lauderdale, FL motel. It seems the desperate families are too homeless.

I’ve long been railing about families “not homeless enough,” as shown in my film of the same name made in Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin a couple years ago. Millions of houseless households don’t qualify for HUD assistance because they’re not homeless enough. Congress, bless their hearts, has no clue that homelessness is far worse than they’ve been told by HUD. Instead of 500,000 or so people experiencing homelessness, estimates of 20 million or more reflect the painful reality. Here’s my modest calculation of families and youth.

In last night’s Ft. Lauderdale incident, two families were displaced by fire at the motel they were staying. I think it’s safe to say these families weren’t vacationing.

My latest book, Dismazed and Driven — My Look at Family Homelessness in America, will enlighten readers about this invisible form of family homelessness.
My latest book, Dismazed and Driven — My Look at Family Homelessness in America, will enlighten readers about this invisible form of family homelessness.

Countless families turn to motels when they’ve lost housing. They’re the “lucky” ones. Staying in a motel sure beats the alternatives — sleeping in a car (if you’re luck enough to have one), staying in a shelter (if you’re lucky enough to be somewhere family shelters exist and have room for you), staying with family/friends or strangers (which isn’t as cozy or stable as you might imagine), sleeping in places not fit for human habitation (as awful as it sounds), “camping” with no comforts of home (and enduring awful weather).

But these motels are not paradise. They’re 21st Century Homeless Shelters. In fact, a huge movement toward converting motels into shelters is happening around the country, funded by federal pandemic dollars. It’s a good thing if the motels aren’t a “dumping ground” to hide those some consider “undesirables.” (another story for another day)

When families pay for their own motel rooms, they don’t qualify as “homeless” for purposes of getting housing assistance. If an agency or church, pays, VIOLA! The family is magically considered homeless.

Most families relying on these expensive options to other forms of homelessness struggle to pay for their room which causes considerable consternation. Their existence, as I’ve seen in my efforts to chronicle family homelessness over the past 19 years, ranges from dire to desperately dire.

The motel fire made these two families more homeless by my estimation. Fires are scary, and deadly. Fortunately, the families got out, but lost everything of their meager belongings. According to the WSVN news report:

The families affected are now facing the daunting task of rebuilding their lives.

“We lost everything; now we’re homeless. We don’t have shoes or anything for my kids, no diapers, no nothing,” said Shannon as he spoke about the predicament his family is now in.

The American Red Cross was contacted for assistance, but they couldn’t provide help as the place where the families were staying was not considered a permanent residence.

“They said they can’t help us because we aren’t long-term or something. It’s crazy,” expressed Shannon.

Shannon and his family escaped the inferno with just the clothing on their backs. They didn’t even get a chance to grab shoes.

Picture the families huddled together in front of the smoldering wreckage of their motel rooms. What little hope they had for help — the Red Cross — just told them they don’t qualify for any help.

I don’t know what to say.

No-tell motels on the outskirts (and inner-skirts) of cities and towns nationwide are what passes for “permanent residence” for countless families and individuals. It’s an ugly existence, made even uglier by this determination of the American Red Cross, that if disaster hits, you’re shit out of luck.

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Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us