The coronavirus has brought some very difficult financial times for many people. The vulnerable, poor and homeless are hit especially hard.
The subject of a recent KELOLAND News investigation stepped forward to offer some help. But now some families are being left out in the cold.
You may remember our investigation in the “Motel Mystery,” where a California company bought up mom and pop motels across the state, but didn’t pay its bills or employees.
On February 3rd, Dave Hooper told us he was taking over the hospitality company for Alan Gross.
Then on March 19, Hooper sent KELOLAND News Reporter Angela Kennecke an email saying, “We would like to put the past aside and partner with Sioux Falls to help those in need and hurting right now.”
Hooper offered rooms at the Dakotah Lodge for those in Sioux Falls who needed a place to stay. Less than three weeks later, that offer is being reneged.
Gwen Moldenhauer and her four children are packing up to leave the place they thought was their refuge in a COVID-19 storm. She lost her job last fall after an injury and desperately needed the help that Dakotah Lodge was offering.
“I’m just worried about my kids. You know they said we could stay and then just to kick us out like that–there’s a lot of families in here–it’s not just my family–a lot of families with kids. They don’t have anywhere to go either.
The hotel’s CEO, Dave Hooper, sent KELOLAND Investigates an email on March 19th which read: “We have 100 clean unused rooms with a gorgeous clean, chlorine fed indoor pool and it is a shame to have it sit there. I have reached out to Bishop Dudley Hospitality House as well as the city attorney office as well as the mayors office.”
Hooper went on to say, “I am not looking for this to be on the news or publicized in any way.”
However, the next day, Mayor Paul Ten Haken told the public about the offer.
“We had a hotel reach out to us yesterday–100 beds; indoor pool. They said Paul, there’s no one in our property. We want you to use this as you see fit. If you need to house homeless population here; you need to use it for quarantine–we’re ready. We’re ready to open our doors. At no cost to our community. Right there we opened up 100 housing units. It was an incredible act of generosity by this hotelier.”Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken/March 20th City Briefing
Now several families say that act of generosity was short-lived.
“The homeless shelters aren’t taking anybody new. Nothing’s open to take anybody whose homeless–so we’re getting forced out onto the streets with nowhere to go for our families.”Mother Courtney Baartman on losing shelter
Kennecke: Dave Hooper contacted me and said the doors were open for people who needed it.
Gawell: Yes, and that’s what I was informed of as well. We were given a two day evaluation policy for everyone–which I have been stringently sticking to.
Manager Justin Gawell told us he was ordered to tell everyone to leave because the hotel is closing.
“I got a call last week and I was given the task of shutting the property down,” Gawell said.
Hooper is now placing the blame on KELOLAND News, which aired the mayor’s news conference live.
“I believe I put on that email that it is not to be in the press, not to be in the media. We were just gathering information,” Hooper said in a voicemail to KELOLAND News.
Hooper went on to say that instead of being villanized, people should be thanking him.
“If you want to give us a commendation–an award for opening up our hotel for free of charge over the past couple of weeks–even though we didn’t have a chance to plan it correctly.”Dave Hooper in a voicemail to Kennecke
“I don’t understand how someone can offer up that kind of space and then take it away from a bunch of people who need shelter right now. There’s a ton of children in there who have nowhere to go right now, ” Gwen Moldenhauer said.
Moldenhauer has contacted East River Legal Service, who is trying to help. It’s calling on the governor’s office to issue a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Union Gospel Mission told KELOLAND News it is still taking in people who need help.