Broke in Philly

Heading back to a shelter, Philly mom wishes COVID hotel money could pay for housing instead

The funding designated for contingency sites is not flexible, city officials said.

The four youngest Quinn family children, who are moving back to a shelter

The four youngest Quinn family children, who are moving back to a shelter

Courtesy Deborah Quinn
BALA CYNWYD, PA - JAN 12, 2019:  Courtenay Harris Bond and her husband Jeffery Bond stand in their renovated kitchen after a tree on their property fell on their home. "CREDIT: Will Figg for The Wall Street Journal"

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On the day after Christmas, Deborah Quinn and her family are leaving the city’s COVID isolation site, where they’ve been for the past three weeks, and moving back into a shelter.

Quinn is thankful for the opportunity to stay at the Holiday Inn Express. She just can’t stop thinking about the math.

She and her children had been staying at the Jane Addams Place in West Philadelphia after their landlord kicked them out in September. After 7-year-old Raven tested positive, the health department asked Quinn and her four youngest to isolate for a while, in case the virus spread to the three other kids, all under age 12.

Now that their time is up, she’s wondering why the cost of putting up the family at the hotel for three weeks — including catered meals — couldn’t have gone to a lease deposit or rental assistance on a permanent place to stay.

“God knows how much they have spent for a family of five for 24 days, and I still have no housing,” said Quinn, 40. “They’ve just spent how many thousands of dollars?”

The quarantine space (for people who’ve already tested positive) is still operating, as opposed to the recently closed prevention space for people at risk. But the funding used to pay for it is not flexible, said city spokesperson Mike Dunn.

In fact, the city’s not sure how much of its spending will be covered at all.

“There is simply no guarantee that the costs incurred by the COVID prevention spaces will be fully reimbursed,” Dunn said.

The July-through-December price tag will come in at more than $21 million, according to city projections — $5 million for the isolation/quarantine program and $16 million for the prevention program. The figures include the cost of renting and managing facilities, as well as costs associated with medical, behavioral health, social services, and management, Dunn said.

Some of the costs will be covered by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was set up by the CARES Act. The city has so far charged $5.3 million to that fund, per Dunn, for operation of the hotels between March and August 2020.

A portion of the funding is supposed to come from FEMA, which recently waived a requirement to reapply for coverage of ongoing non-congregate sheltering, like the Holiday Inn Express.

“This action will streamline the process for our partners seeking FEMA assistance for those costs,” agency spokesperson Gabriel Lugo told Billy Penn.

However, that’s not a blanket authorization for reimbursement through the end of the pandemic, Lugo clarified. Applicants must follow specific guidelines, establish their eligibility, and provide monthly sheltering updates in order to qualify for continued eligibility.

The city is currently collecting documentation to get paid back, Dunn said, adding, “FEMA has very strict rules about what expenses are reimbursable.”

Raven Quinn, 7, tested positive for COVID in early December

Raven Quinn, 7, tested positive for COVID in early December

Courtesy Deborah Quinn

For Quinn, the funding source doesn’t matter — she just wants help getting her kids settled in a permanent home.

“I really need a landlord who will trust us,” Quinn said, “because we’ve been in a circle of hell.”.

A fire destroyed the home they were living in in December 2018, and it’s been difficult to pick up the pieces ever since.

Quinn and the father of her children, Carl Warren, tried staying with relatives. But with five children and Quinn’s mother, who is in a wheelchair, it was impossible to find anyone to take them in long term. The family was waiting for its $7,000 tax refund only to find out that someone else had fraudulently cashed it, Quinn said.

“It’s really hard for large families” to find rentals, she said. “My [partner] and I have talked about breaking up the family.”

But neither of them want to do that. They recently started a GoFundMe with a $5,000 goal.

With everyone currently virus free, Quinn is disappointed money had to be spent on keeping her family in a hotel. “They could’ve let us quarantine in our own house,” she said. “Just help me get a house.”

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