Motels and the hapless, the homeless and the hopeless

Two years of ownership of the 15-room Camden Motor Inn at Mermaid Beach and it’s been a bumpy ride.

Selling a country hotel in Queensland and saying goodbye to food and alcohol service to make beds for a living, seemed an easy choice. With plenty of rent to find each month – I took all comers. 

My first guests, two girls, one paid cash of $50 and the other asked me to ring her grandmother in Tasmania to credit card  the other $50. Unusual yes, but hey, I’m in hospitality. 10am next morning, no sign of them – a knock on door and master key entry revealed a shocking sight – one unconscious (sleeping) girl, a large dog, ten suitcases and boxes, two bicycles, two truck tyres, a four-burner BBQ, new wall hangings and lights replaced ours, and a new shower rose with a noose!

The girls had fought overnight, blood was evident and the girl wanted another night but would not have the money until her Tasmanian grandmother got her ‘pay’ that night (welfare payment).

She refused to leave. My wife who is braver than I packed her up. We lined the footpath with all their stuff – eventually a car arrived, and they were gone (and gave us a bad online review after returning for their shower rose).  

The next few weeks were a repetition of this type of behaviour, and the experience just as unsavoury – guests were dirty, carried all of their possessions, had no respect for property, stole things, were unemployed, always paid cash and gave our motel a bad feel and look.

We didn’t realise so many Australians were homeless, living in cars, and wandering aimlessly. We discovered that as a general rule, they stayed up all night drinking and smoking, caused excessive noise and problems for other guests, and had no concept of time, so they were difficult to get out at 10am.

Also, no sooner would they check in, when their friends would arrive, all using our facilities.

Then we encountered the “crisis centres” – a variety of government funded organisations who seek to help the homeless, the hungry, battered wives and other unfortunate citizens – all thoroughly worthwhile causes in theory, but not great for the motel where they are placed.

It is too depressing to watch parents raising children in motel rooms, not sending them to school because they cannot get out of bed in the morning, feeding them giant colourful slushies and potato chips for breakfast, teaching them nothing, and yet the parents can afford alcohol and cigarettes. Parents were unemployed but not looking for work. 

There is work around – our motel has work – our contract cleaners are a variety of Argentine, Spanish, Colombian, Uruguayan and New Zealand girls, all fit and keen – they are a delight to work with – but no Australians. 

We developed a new strategy – to get a room you needed two things – a working credit card and teeth!! Without both, there is no bed at Camden.

My wife renovated the rooms, we have kept standards high, and business is good. Our problems are in the past.

But what a sad reflection on Australian society – what started out in the 60s and 70s as a safety net for those needing temporary help, is now a lifestyle and there are literally hundreds of thousands choosing it – it’s not good, and we can’t afford it as a nation.

In the USA where welfare is not as generous, tent cities have sprung up, people sleep on footpaths and in boxes – that’s not good either – I don’t have the answers – but the Camden Motor Inn is not part of the solution.

Ross Given

Ross Given is a retired solicitor who introduced affordable conveyancing to Queensland in the early 1990s and was director of operations at World Expo '88.

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  1. Unfortunately we get the same in our serviced self contained apartments.
    We have found adding a $200 security bond (can be paid cash) on apartments plus electronic transactions for room stays prior to checking-in has helped reduced this clientele as described. But, still, a few seem to slip through the doors once they know our processes. All the best with the Motel, thanks for sharing.

  2. Love your story; we experienced similar in our first few months. Unfortunately, all too common in regional Australia wherever a Centrelink Office is located. We are now very, very close to not accepting cash as a form of payment unless you are over 75. However, the banks are not helping by giving “credit” cards to almost anyone nowadays, irrespective of their ability to repay debts. Bring on the Indue Card!
    We use two questions to filter: (1) how long are you planning to stay? (if they are not sure, we are full) and (2) What are your credit card details? I have also made it clear to reception staff that if they wish to go outside this policy, they have to put up their credit card details as a bond. They rarely risk their own money now.
    To compound the situation, legislation is quite pathetic when it comes to getting rid of unwanted people if they scam their way in, damage, unpaid, disruptive or otherwise. We recently had to call Qld Police every time a non-paying guest caused a disturbance (their rules). After 14 visits within 12 hours QPS finally agreed to work “with” us and we were able to get rid of them, though I had to cough up for a tow truck to remove their vehicle (well worth it!). Otherwise, they simply need to say they are homeless and have nowhere to go and Police are Powerless to do anything. They walk away and say it is a commercial issue.

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