Social services are increasingly using Grand Cayman hotels as emergency housing for homeless families.

The Needs Assessment Unit spent more than $50,000 on hotel bills last year – a sevenfold increase from the previous year.

Officials say the number of people unable to find affordable housing has spiked sharply in tandem with rising rental costs in Grand Cayman over the past 18 months. Matthew Hylton, deputy director of the unit, said hotels are used as a last resort when its clients have nowhere else to stay.

Over the past two years, social services has funded rooms for 68 clients in five different hotels, according to data released to the Compass under the Freedom of Information Law.

In many cases the hotels are used for a couple of nights until alternatives are found. But some families are housed for considerably longer.

The data includes an $11,660 bill – equivalent to 85 nights – for one family from the Sunshine Suites. There is also a $5,300 bill from the Wyndham resort for one client, and a $2,665 bill from the Comfort Suites. The exact length of the stay is not revealed in the data, and Mr. Hylton said that in some cases it was necessary to book more than one room for larger families.

The FOI, which covers the past two years and the early part of 2018, shows a dramatic jump in expenditure from $7,525 in 2016 to $52,776 last year.

Just over $6,000 was spent on hotels in the first four months of 2018.

Some in the charitable sector question the wisdom of spending the unit’s stretched resources on hotel rooms.

Tara Nielsen, of charity Acts of Random Kindness, which provides support to families in need, said increasing the $800-a-month rental assistance cap for needy families would be a more sensible use of funds and would mean less people needing emergency shelter for sustained periods.

“Using hotel rooms like this is an expensive Band-Aid,” she said.

“They are throwing money in the wrong places. If they could raise that $800 figure to around $1,100, they wouldn’t need to spend money on hotel rooms because these families would be able to find somewhere to live.”

The rental assistance cap was raised to $1,200 a month for a family of five in 2017, though it remains at $800 for smaller families.

Ms. Nielsen said entrenched poverty issues in parts of Grand Cayman were exacerbated by recent increases in the cost of living, particularly in the rental market, making it almost impossible find apartments within that budget. She added that many landlords refused to accept NAU clients, citing the fact that government frequently fails to pay rent on time.

She said many of the people seeking housing assistance from the NAU were young single mothers who were either unable to work or did not earn enough money to cover basic living expenses for themselves and their children.

Even when they are able to find apartments for $800 a month, she said, they were frequently unable to afford the deposit, which is not covered by the NAU. ARK has covered that charge for around 25 families in the past year.

If the NAU paid deposits, she believes more families would be able to find apartments, reducing the reliance on hotels.

Longer term, she believes a transitional housing facility is needed.

“This problem isn’t going away. In some cases people are living in cars or camping on beaches. There needs to be somewhere to go that isn’t so expensive. Paying for a hotel in the Cayman Islands is outrageous.

“It is not just about fixing one problem; it is a series of systemic problems.”

Mr. Hylton said the unit explored all other options, including housing clients with family members, before considering hotel accommodation.

He said the NAU had raised its rent allowances for larger families in response to the increase in property prices. But he acknowledged rising rental costs were part of the problem.

He said, “I believe the spike [in hotel payments between 2016 and 2017] would coincide with the rise in the rental market. This may have impacted the growing need for hotel accommodations due to homelessness and clients not being able to meet the increased prices.”

He added that the rental allowance was not the only problem, and for some clients with particularly large families or with known mental health or social issues, it is much harder to find accommodation. He said the unit referred them for professional support when possible, as well as assisting in their search for housing.

“It is not just a matter of locating apartments within the set price range,” he added.

Responding to the concerns that the NAU did not pay landlords on time, he said the unit had carried out an internal audit on late payments and found this was due to a number of issues, not all within its control.

He said clients often told landlords that the NAU would be paying the rent before making an appointment with the unit and without either party confirming such support was approved. In other cases, he said, landlords and clients provided late or incomplete paperwork, causing delays in payments.

Mr. Hylton added, “It was found that the majority of the rental payments processed by the NAU were done within a timely manner once assessments were completed and approved and necessary information provided to process payments.”

He acknowledged there were some occasions where delays were caused by internal staff shortages, but suggested this situation had improved with the hiring of new staff in 2018.

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  1. With an understand that homelessness is an international problem, I went right to the internet to see what other countries are doing about homelessness and found an interesting article about how Finland is facing its homeless crisis.

    Not 100% accepted nor acceptable, there seems to be genuine progress in a sustainable way. Perhaps with our lower incidence and more sensitive population we could do something about our homeless individuals and families instead of trying quick band-aid solutions. Perhaps a public-private partnership could work here with more public awareness of the issue, and more focus on program successes.

    • Mr. Barnett, when viewing homelessness within our Caymanian population, you are right to compare it internationally.

      In fact, the United Nations clearly makes the provision of housing for Caymanians who are unable to do so for certain reasons a human rights obligation for the Cayman Islands Government.

      In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1) states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

      There are only two parties here with any legal standing regarding these vertical human rights:
      1) Caymanians unable to provide their own
      a. food,
      b. clothing,
      c. medical care,
      d. necessary social services, and
      e. security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control;
      2) and the Cayman Islands Government.

      It’s all in plain English.

  2. Better yet, renovate an old abandoned building as a shelter for the homeless like we have in the states.
    Heck some might be lying just to stay in a hotel, they’re getting a nice vacation.
    Don’t spend the islands money on hotel. Make a shelter, it only makes sense.

    • Ms. Ponzetto, I am quite sure that government officials within the NAU, DCFS and the Ministry of Community Affairs leadership are all aware that staff in every public authority and government department is required to comply with Convention rights in ALL their decisions and actions performed in the normal course of their duties.

      On Page 21, Government knows that Section 24 Duty of Public Officials in our Constitution states that “It is unlawful for a public official to make a decision or to act in a way that is incompatible with the Bill of Rights”.

      In particular, government MUST comply with the human rights to housing that each one of these homeless children and adults actually already possess as of right.

      I also agree with you since the Cayman Islands Government has long violated the rights of suffering Caymanians for many years now by not having a solution like you describe with providing shelters.

      And Ms. Tara Nielsen is also right when she stated in the article that “Using hotel rooms like this is an expensive Band-Aid”.

      However, social services is here with who is in front of them today, and social services staff are only faced with TWO possibilities at this moment:
      1) comply with the law and do their job to provide social service applicants with their benefits under Convention laws and constitutional rights, or
      2) get arrested, terminated and face personal litigation for bad faith/negligence for committing unlawful acts when they have actual knowledge that what they are doing by not providing whatever housing is available at this moment in time to these applicants and their children is illegal, since that would be a criminal offence under Penal Code (2017 Revision) which states on Page 50, Section 121 Disobedience of Lawful Duty that “A person who wilfully disobeys ANY law by doing ANY act which such law forbids, or by OMITTING TO DO ANY ACT WHICH SUCH LAW REQUIRES TO BE DONE, and which concerns the public or any part of the public, commits an offence and, unless the law provides some other penalty, is LIABLE TO IMPRISONMENT FOR TWO YEARS.”

      The law is very clear regarding government’s statutory obligation to provide housing in those circumstances.

  3. I think that it would be very interesting to know the names of the homeless people who are staying at the hotel .
    Like Linda and Rodney said , keep the hotels out of the issue , and handle the situation more economical and smarter . I agree that some abandoned building could be renovated to suite the purpose , but using hotels is a no brainer . Look at the revenue that just one hotel room put in the economy in one week with tourist , when they would go diving and eat/drink out , and go shopping , can the homeless do all those things ? No , unless Cayman have a different kind of homeless people .

    • Mr. Ebanks, it’s hard to imagine what public purpose could possibly be served by publishing the names of needy Caymanian applicants and/or their children, especially when Section 9(1) Private and Family Life in our Constitution states that “Government shall respect every person’s private and family life, his or her home and his or her correspondence.”

      There are minor children suffering right now with parents who actually refuse to even apply for social services assistance because the parents are ashamed of the stigma associated in the community regarding poverty.

      And then to have these families further subjected to their perceived embarrassment because they lost their job due to an illness, or were made redundant, or even because they made bad choices to procreate with a deadbeat who did not provide for their own children, or whatever reason landed them in this position? No.

      It’s bad enough that your private information is known to a government official with access to your private information, only to then find out that your private information concerning your internal file was illegally disclosed by one of these government officials to a member of the public, and then that statutory breach is brought to your attention.

      So we seem to be a long way off from making the case to make public the names of these homeless people, unless of course the names are part of judicial proceedings and is spoken publicly by the judge or legal counsel in the court hearing, which then makes that disclosure fair game and open for public scrutiny at the conclusion of the litigation.

  4. I agree Mr Ebanks , I made a mistake by saying the homeless people , what i should have said is so call pretending homeless . I think that who is staying in the hotel’s might be getting a free vacation on taxpayers dime , and they needs to be exposed publicly .