The number of children in Tarrant County living in motels and hotels is on the rise because of increasing rent costs, high occupancy rates for apartments and decreased access to child care. 

The Center for Transforming Lives recently released a report to raise awareness about families living in motels and their lack of access to resources, severely impacting the ability to break the cycle of homelessness. 

Dubbed the “hidden homeless,” 2,600 children were living in motels during the 2020-21 school year in Tarrant County, the coalition said, using available information from the Texas Education Agency. About half of those children are younger than 6. Just five years ago, that number was half of that at 1,110 children. 

The data for the 2020-21 school year is probably low because of COVID-19’s impact on school enrollment, Center for Transforming Lives CEO Carol Klocek said.

The report found that single-parent women made up the majority of the families living in motels, with Black families accounting for about 45% of the surveyed population. 

Living in a hotel often starts as a short-term solution. But the report, which surveyed families between February 2021 and October 2021, found that over one-third of families stayed in this type of living set-up for more than six months. 

“We were really surprised to see the number of families that had been living in a motel for a year or even two years. We think that that will continue to increase as fewer rental spots are available,” Klocek said. 

The report highlighted the financial obstacles that often prevent families from affording a place to live. Sometimes, they don’t make enough income or are fleeing domestic violence. Usually, it’s because of the lack of access to and the high cost of child care. 

“If they’re not able to obtain child care, then they’re not able to work,” said Tatyana Dace, a case manager with the Center for Transforming Lives. 

There are different definitions of homelessness across several federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness as an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. 

Are families living in motels considered homeless?

Generally, people living in motels and hotels are not considered homeless under the HEARTH Act. However, there are a few exceptions:

– Hotels and motels paid for by federal, state, or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations;

– An individual or family who has a primary nighttime residence that is a room in a hotel or motel and where they lack the resources necessary to reside there for more than 14 days, who has no subsequent residence identified; and lacks the resources or support networks needed to obtain other permanent housing;

– Any individual or family who is fleeing, or is attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the individual’s or family’s current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, and who have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing;

The HEARTH Act, which provides a federal definition of homelessness, does not include people living in motels and hotels except in a few situations. If they do qualify as homeless, a lot of them said they do not always know about the assistance programs available to them. 

“Those that are living in a motel, they have no protections in terms of the lease, or they really don’t have any legal recourse, so they could be out of their living arrangement at any moment,” Klocek said. 

The limited availability of resources available to families living in motels can create a constant state of stress not only for the parents but also the children. 

“If I’m a little one and my mother is every day really stressed about her life conditions, she’s not going to have the ability to really pay attention to me and my development,” Klocek said. “She’s not going to be able to comfort the child and create routines for the child, care for the child in the way that she would if she was experiencing safety and security in her own home.”

Fort Worth Report fellow Sandra Sadek may be reached at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Sandra Sadek

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...