A Sweet Suite Upgrade, A Fire Alarm, Resuming What I Am Doing & The Guy Who Knocked on My Door

When I do work in Detroit, I tend to stay at the Motorcity Casino Hotel. The main reasons: it is located close to the offices of the organization I am doing work for; and, it is the cheapest hotel in the area on Expedia by a lot.

I stay in a lot of hotels. This is one of the best. Amazing staff. Clean. Fast WiFi. Oh, and the casino has a Star Wars slot machine (that only focuses on the original three movies, so it is cool – Jar Jar Binks free).

Yesterday at check-in they asked me if I wanted a free upgrade. I wish these sorts of things happened more often. I said sure. Danielle – the super awesome check-in lady – wanted me to know that the suite they were providing me was on part of a floor where all of the suites are also accessible for people with physical disabilities. No problem to me, unless I would be taking it away from someone who needed an accessible suite.

At around 3am, the fire alarm went off. This isn’t the first time that this has happened when I have stayed in a hotel. It is annoying to be sure. But I have never experienced a vibrating bed and pulsing strobe lights and ear splitting pitches that make fire engine sirens sound tame.

After the first few minutes, I thought it might be a real fire. The alarm indicators (vibrations, lights, pitches) weren’t stopping. Then I did the pacing around my room thing with increased anxiety. Then I put on my jeans and T-shirt and was getting ready to vacate my 13th floor (yes they actually name it the 13th floor instead of other hotels that skip from 12 to 14) room. Just as I was unlocking my door, the sounds and lights stopped. Walking back to my bed, disrobing again, an announcement came over the speakers, “The alarm has been investigated. There is no fire. Please resume your normal activities.”

Please resume your normal activities?

I guess in my case that meant sleeping.

Snuggled back into one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in, my head laid on the pillow, my eyes shutting again there was a loud knock on the door and a booming voice “Hotel Security”.

Back out of bed, pants on I shuffled to the door, looked through the peephole (there are three on the door at different heights) and sure enough, they looked like Hotel Security. I opened up the door.

“Sir, we are just checking in on all guests staying in our accessible suites to make sure they are alright after the alarms and to make sure they feel confident they could get out in the event of a fire.”

Back to bed. But in got me thinking about a few things that come up in homelessness work all the time.

  1. Do we sound multiple alarms?
  2. How do people react to shocking experiences?
  3. What exactly constitutes a “normal” activity?
  4. Do we check to make sure everyone knows the way out?

If we want to truly end homelessness we have to have multiple alarms – point in time counts, HMIS data mining for individual users on an annual basis, affordable housing stock analysis, etc. We should use the data in ways that will rattle them. Wake them up. We need our communities, elected officials, policy wonks, faith groups to be shaken into believing there is something happening that needs attention.

When the alarm was sounded, at first I thought false alarm. Then as time passed I got more concerned. Then I paced. It was only as I was taking action that the false alarm was made known. My good friend Toby Druce is a genius, I think. One of the things he has helped me understand overtime is the pathways that people experience once they reach homelessness, and how some people go down a pathway where being homeless seems normal to the person. From last night I got thinking about what those first few hours, days or weeks must be like after you have experienced the shock of being homeless. Is it something that is going to pass quickly? What things do I need with me? Where should I go? Won’t someone tell me what to do or where to go?

And then the “all clear” announcement telling people to resume normal activities got me thinking about the confusing information and advice that is frequently shared with homeless people. You wouldn’t believe how many places I have been where the “normal activities” provided to homeless people are employment training, addiction counseling, prayer, mental health supports, clothes, life skills training and the like. Those seem to be “normal” activities to provide. At what point did helping people access housing – the only thing that will actually end their homelessness – become such an abnormal activity to offer? Paraphrasing David Hulchanski’s writing, homelessness may not only be a housing problem, but it is always a housing problem.

Finally the experience with hotel security got me thinking about whether we make sure everyone gets out of homelessness. It also got me thinking about how communication even after the event of homelessness is important. Should an emergency happen again, they wanted to make sure I would be okay getting out. Which also got me thinking about how we don’t do enough sometimes in exit planning with clients after they have been housed to ensure that they have ideas of what they will do if they find themselves confronted with the possibility of homelessness again.

Lots of thinking.

I just wish I had done most of it later today rather than staying up another couple of hours thinking about how that dang fire alarm makes me think about homelessness and our responses.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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