Residents shaken, unsure. For some, Budgetel room ‘still a home,’ and leaving hurts.

Modesto Budgetel Inn & Suites abruptly closes telling around 100 guests to leave

The Modesto Budgetel Inn & Suites on McHenry Avenue abruptly closed on Saturday January 26, 2019. Around 100 guests, many long-term, were told to leave the hotel by the end of the day.
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The Modesto Budgetel Inn & Suites on McHenry Avenue abruptly closed on Saturday January 26, 2019. Around 100 guests, many long-term, were told to leave the hotel by the end of the day.

Budgetel Inn & Suites resident Maya Franklin said Sunday morning that it hurt her heart to have to break the news the previous day to her 7-year-old grandson that he’s homeless.

Learning his family would have to leave the troubled, discount McHenry Avenue motel they’ve called home since December 2017, the “smart-as-a-whip” Beard Elementary first-grader said to his nana, “Now we’re homeless?”

“My family have been doing a great job to show this young man that this is still a home,” said 47-year-old Franklin, who lives at Budgetel with her stroke-disabled husband, two grown children and grandson. She told him, “’We’ve always been homeless,’ and he did not know that he was ever homeless until yesterday.”

The families living at the Budgetel still were reeling from Saturday’s shock: That the motel was closed and they had to get out after the motel operators filed for bankruptcy just the day before. While motel staff tried to get guests to leave, many remained late Sunday morning.

But there was help.

Angela Huerta with the St. Vincent De Paul Ministry of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church said Sunday evening her charity arranged temporary lodging for families with children, the disabled, and seniors, in all 57 people, including 16 children. She had advised single men and women to go to Beard Brook Park, where the city in September allowed the homeless to set up a tent city.

Huerta said three Modesto motels agreed to provide rooms for the 57 people for three days, with St. Vincent De Paul paying for them. She said that will give people time to get their bearings, work with social service providers and figure out their next steps.

The Modesto Budgetel Inn & Suites on McHenry Avenue abruptly closed on Saturday January 26, 2019. Around 100 guests, many long-term, were told to leave the hotel by the end of the day.

St. Vincent De Paul had been putting up poor families at the Budgetel for at least several years, Huerta said, and she learned about the closure Saturday morning when motel staff called her. Stanislaus County also brought out social service workers to the Budgetel on Saturday and staffed its homeless outreach and engagement center in downtown on Sunday to provide assistance.

Huerta said she also was working with the nonprofit Turning Point Community Programs to help the Budgetel families.

United Resorts LLC operates the roughly 100-room motel and leases it from its Modesto-based owners, the Khatri Brothers limited partnership. United Resorts filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Friday, claiming it had assets of $256,350 against liabilities of $392,360.

Those liabilities included $61,439 owed to the Khatri Brothers in lease payments, $99,534 to California Department of Industrial Relations and $160,000 that United Resorts CEO and President Shafi Ahmed lent the motel for renovations, capital improvements, lease payments and other expenses.

Ahmed could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The motel is two blocks south of Briggsmore Avenue and has been been a concern to police because of problems that include vagrancy, drugs and prostitution.

“This has been a crime watering hole for years, for at least the last six years,” Police Chief Galen Carroll said Sunday. And he repeated that Neal Khatri is in a large measure responsible for that.

“He has taken zero responsibility and hid behind the fact that he has an operator (run the Budgetel),” Carroll said. “He’s the property owner. It’s his responsibility to make this property safe. We tried to get them to hire real security, put in fencing, and other measures.”

Khatri repeated Sunday that he is being unfairly blamed for problems that were out of his control, saying they were the responsibility of the motel operator. He also said once he and his brothers take possession of the motel after it goes through bankruptcy, “it will be a different place.”

“By law, I have zero say in how it was operated,” he said. “Let’s put it this way: I didn’t like what they were doing. But I’ve got other things to do. I’ve got my own businesses to run, too.”

Budgetel guests said Saturday that motel staff told them if they didn’t leave, the police would make them. Khatri complained the police refused to get involved. Carroll said his officers will not get involved in a civil matter between the motel and the people staying there.

The Budgetel also has provided housing for poor families. One Budgetel staff member estimated that nearly half of the people who stayed at the motel were long-term guests.

The motel’s abrupt closure highlights the lack of affordable housing for poor people, especially those who may have problems with their credit or evictions brought about by unexpected medical bills, the loss of a job or other financial calamity or even poor choices.

Long-term Budgetel residents like Franklin and 26-year-old Alisha Muhammad, who’s lived there with her 3-year-old son for 18 months, say they’ve formed a community, a neighborhood, and it’s painful to say goodbye as people are leaving.

Many of those who’ve not left are pulling together even more, she said. That was evident by things like a young mother named Lindsay calling out Sunday morning that anyone with kids who needs to have their clothes washed should bring them to her in the laundry room. She wanted to make sure that none of the students had to go to school dirty Monday.

Lindsay, who would give only her first name, lives in a room with her fiance and his two teen sons. They’ve been there about four months, because both adults are financially strapped after divorces, she said. Their hope for landing permanent housing lies with anticipated income tax returns, said the currently unemployed certified nursing assistant. “Then you can put a lot of money in somebody’s face and get a place to live.”

Muhammad, who’s just learned her child is autistic, has no anticipated “fallback money,” she said. She’s in line for a voucher, she said Sunday, but has no credit history and an income of only a bit more than $500 a month. Several residents interviewed Sunday said they paid $300 to $350 a week to stay at the Budgetel.

Muhammad said she and some others often resorted to panhandling to pay rent just days at a time. “People were paying $30, $20, $5, $10,” she said, but not being given receipts unless they were paying for a full week. She didn’t keep track so rarely knew how far ahead she’d paid. There was a big element of trust involved, she said. “I feel like they played us.”

She feels badly for people who have it even worse, Muhammad said. There is one couple — she’s 69, he’s 84 — who both have heart disease. Others have serious medical issues, too, and they stay at Budgetel in part because it’s close to Doctors Medical Center, which is less than a quarter mile away.

It’s been a struggle to maintain the Budgetel.

On Saturday night, a linen closet and maintenance shed were broken into and burglarized, said night manager Frank Amos. It happened after 8 p.m. when security guards left. From the linen closet, blankets, towels and sheets were taken. One resident said that should be no surprise when the motel operators are kicking people out into 40-degree weather.

But Sofia Nisha, an employee who was at the motel to help residents Sunday, said there were problems before Saturday’s closure. She said break-ins were routine, but usually into rooms. Not even half the Budgetel rooms recently were open for rent because they’d been so badly damaged.

“But people still break in and stay,” she said. There’s been electricity, water, “and if the toilet is broken and you cannot flush it, they’ll still use the toilet.”

Another problem is that some rooms began to look like homeless camps with a ceiling and walls, just packed with hoarded belongings. It was also nearly impossible for employees to get some residents to clean up. “We’d try to scare them by threatening fines,” she said, “but it doesn’t register” or they knew the threats were toothless.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.