The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

The Evil in Doing Good

The word evil inside the word good.On the surface, a hotel that gives away half its rooms every single night to help house the homeless seems like a pretty cool business.

But let me point out why what the Hotel Louisville is doing should probably be stopped.

Take a gander at the article and then follow me over the jump.

Let’s recap.

  1. A little less than half of the Hotel Louisville’s rooms are reserved for homeless guests, who stay free of charge.
  2. Homeless guests get to take part in work therapy programs.
  3. Since the hotel started this little bit of charity work, their yearly revenue has climbed from about $300k a year to about $1.5 million a year.

How can a hotel give away half its rooms and provide work therapy for guests who stay in those rooms every night? Well, there is this one, eentsy catch.

The work therapy is not actually therapy, it’s just plain ol’ work: janitor work, housekeeping work, kitchen work. You know, the kind of work that keeps a hotel running. The kind of work that gave people jobs, once upon a time.

From the Hotel Lousville’s perspective, this is some pretty simple math. The hotel rents its rooms for $49 a night. Those who stay in a room for free participate in work therapy, during which they get paid $0.50/hour. That’s $7.06/hour less than Kentucky’s minimum wage. So the hotel loses $49 for the room and they pay out $4 for eight hours’ pay at $0.50 an hour. That’s a $53 cost for every homeless person staying in one of the hotel’s designated free rooms rooms.

But the hotel saved $7.06/hour for the eight hours of work our theoretical homeless person performed for the hotel, which saves them $56.48. Every homeless person who takes advantage of this, and you can be pretty sure that most available rooms do get filled every night, makes the hotel a slim profit of $3.48/night.

It’s not charity, it’s profitable.

Given that the average hotel runs at a 56% occupancy rate, this works out to be an even sweeter deal for the hotel. Those rooms the homeless are staying in would have likely been empty on any given night. Now, the hotel has a much higher occupancy rate than normal and half of the guests are actually working for the hotel.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the Hotel Louisville started this program with any nefarious intent. What I’m saying is that what they are doing has the potential to wreak some serious havoc.

For one thing, those homeless people have displaced people who used to get paid to do work that is now considered ‘therapy.’ How many people? No idea

For another thing, those homeless people are now making a very small fraction of the money the displaced workers used to make. Fifty cents is a far cry from minimum wage, even in these rascally economic times. They don’t even make enough in an eight hour shift to feed themselves at the hotel’s $5 buffet. Whatever the intent, the hotel has traded a number of workers who made some money for a larger number of workers who effectively make no money. That can’t be good for the local economy.

But the bigger worry is how this program shines a light on the many ways our most vulnerable citizens are ripe for exploitation. The Hotel Louisville, for all the good it is trying to do, is running a brutally efficient company store, and it’s not going to be long before someone more ruthless gets wind of this plan and starts horning in on the sweet exploitative action. You think McD’s wouldn’t like to pay for an eight hour shift of slinging burgers with a burger, small fry, and a carbonated drink?

There isn’t an easy answer to this issue. Shutting down Hotel Lousiville would be hard on the local homeless population, though some of them might be able to get better-paying jobs from the Hotel if they weren’t staying there for free. But this is exactly the kind of thing we need to keep an eye on, before we all find ourselves working for room and board and a few bucks a day.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.