Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Motel Families

Ashland, Virginia straddles Rt. 1, about half way between Fredericksburg and Richmond. We are exit 92-B on I-95 northbound. Ashland has a lot of motels.

See, Rt 1 used to be THE highway to get basically from Florida to New York.  Rt 1 was a bustling place. Up until the 1970's or so. I'm trying to get a timeline on when I-95 was constructed north of Richmond. As I am currently an unpaid blogger as opposed to a paid reporter, I only have so much time on my hands to do research. The best I can figure it that it was in the 1970's that I-95 turned Rt. 1 into a sort of ghost town. The invention of the interstate exit, with hotels and restaurants and gas stations and everything you need less than a mile from where you get on and off the interstate meant no one had to travel the old U.S. highways anymore. And the business that had long thrived along those highways took a nosedive.

Among the victims of the decline of Rt 1 were the old school sign painters, who not only lost steady clients who had paid them to keep signs in tip top shape, but were later hit with the double whammy of being replaced by cheaper, faster digital sign making. Another brick in the analog vs. digital wall you'll see me write about a lot. Suffice it to say there are a lot of old motels in and near Ashland.

Rates for motels tend to be around $200 a week. As I mentioned in my post The Magic of Fundraising, my friend Dave Powers has come to Ashland many times since 2004.  His stays can last up to a few months. (It takes a long time to build and install Halloween decor for an entire theme park. No, we don't only work one month out of the year on such events). The cheapest places to stay in Ashland are motels.

$200 a week is a pretty good deal. That's less than $30 a night. Hotels can easily cost twice that. Dave has generally had good experiences staying in these motels in Ashland. But funny thing... I'd stop by the motel to see Dave, and I realized that there were people LIVING in these motels. You could tell by the sheer amount of stuff they had with them. I've seen laundry hanging up outside of motels. And I've seen more people than probably should have been staying in one room.

My mental wheels started turning. While $200 a month might be a good rate compared to a hotel room, $800 a month for a single room SUCKS compared to living in an apartment. Why in God's name would anyone choose to live in a freaking motel?

Ah... there's the word... "choose".

One day about a year ago, my wife was a bit upset. She told me she had seen a documentary on families that were living in the motels around Ashland. She told me I had to see it. I never got around to it. Until yesterday.

See, last week I attended the Ashland Town Council Candidates Forum. A chance to listen to the candidates speak about why they are running for office. A chance to ask them questions. A chance for them to answer. One of the candidates stuck out to me like a sore thumb. Her name is Lucinda Jones.

See, I was there to ask about the candidates position on forming an arts and culture district in Ashland. I wanted to start a very public conversation about the natural tension that exists between trying to preserve "community standards", (which are subjective and vary from place to place), and an artists freedom of expression, particularly in the context of censorship. My question was taken seriously, with candidates varying somewhat along the spectrum in regards to standing up for freedom of expression. There was some laughter.

Other questions had to do with supporting a theoretical new interstate exchange north of town, and preserving Ashland as a "sleepy little town" vs. trying to stimulate economic grown. Most answers were fairly predictable, with the candidates seeming to agree with one another on most issues.

Except one.


There Lucinda Jones stood out like a wearied lighthouse keeper, trying to keep a beacon shining in a turbulent storm so that incoming ships don't dash themselves against the rocks. She spoke for the invisibles.

Photo from Richmond Times Dispatch
Lucinda Jones is the executive director for Ashland Supportive Housing of Virginia. Her clients are single mothers who are homeless. Her clients are among the people who I've seen living in those well weathered, once vibrant, motels along Ashland's Rt. 1.

Lucinda Jones is the producer of the documentary that upset my wife a year ago.

A documentary called "Motel Families".

------------- Breathe -------------

We had our first Meet and Greet of the Ashland Arts Alliance on Sunday. One of the things I talked about was how our presence in Ashland wasn't necessarily going to be met with open arms by all. We have funny ideas. We talk about those ideas, and express them in our art. Many of us look funny. We often do things that make people uncomfortable.

Artists have a tendency to openly talk about unpleasant realities. Guess what folks. Here's one.

For more info, go to Ashland Supportive Housing of Virginia.

"Have you seen the lighthouse?", Cried Marie Christine
"Have you seen the jagged rocks, and the waters in-between?
Have you seen the lighthouse? Oh save me if you can!
And if you do I promise you I'll never sail again!"
-Gordon Lightfoot

Today's election day.


  1. Interesting story, and I'll watch video a bit later. It's early morning and I don't want to cry yet. It'll affect me all day, but than that poor woman is affected all day, everyday.

  2. Where can we watch the documentary?

    1. Hi Courtney Elizabeth, Thanks for asking. Click on the link for Ashland Supportive Houseing of Virginia, or go to www.ashlandsupportivehousing.org. The documentary is available on DVD.

  3. I would like to know what type of assistance are you offering to the motel families?

    I was a motel resident for about 9 months at each of the motels on Jefferson Davis Hwy in Richmond (Chesterfield), and must be honest neither I nor have any of the other families heard of you organization.
    Actually Rte1, where the majority of the motels are nowhere close to Ashland. For the past 19 months, our community formed action group has been the only group that targeted and provided basic aid to the families who reside in these motels.

    Realistically, 95% of this population has criminal records, poor credit, outstanding utility payments or a poor rental history which includes eviction. These people have used personal resources such as family and government aid thus leaving the motels as a last resort. I say this because your criteria eliminates any services for these people. So what help can you possibly be rendering?

    The other 5% of motel families are categorized as “the working poor”, they have jobs and are resistant to letting strangers into their world. They tend shy away because there situation although distress is only temporary. With ok credit and verifiable income– Housing is available, actually many complexes are desperate to find renters by offering No Deposit – First Month’s rent free. So you see, when dealing with the motel families it can get complex, that is why professional or person who have actually experienced or involved with the population offer a voice for them.

    What is your mission as it targets this population? How many of your board member are minorities? Has anyone affiliated with your organization actually been homeless? What is your impact ratio thus far? We could not find any verification of your success through guidestar nor BBB, what accreditation or affiliate programs are representing you organization?
    I viewed your photos I must admit, you’ve painted a bleak and stereo typical portrait of low income single African American Mother, living substandard which is actually incorrect and opposed to an positive efforts going forward to raise awareness of this growing population. After reading a bit of your awakening, (to see the poor people and want to help), touching but typical, How many homeless shelters are actually in Ashland Virginia?

    The community does appreciate the time and efforts you put forth to make a documentary, which charge a fee to view and cannot be access through any reviewable methods.

    If you would like to learn more about this population we invite you to come out into the motels with us, meet the families, listen to them. Please don’t take this the wrong way we would love to include your organization in our affiliate contacts, but we have the task of weeding out the corrupt “non-profits” in order to adequately serve the entire population. We look forward to seeing and hearing of commitment to the population your advertising.

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    I've been taking a break from posting on my blog, and just noticed your comment. I'm just a blogger who comments on what I see. You should direct your questions to Lucinda Jones at Ashland Supportive Housing of Virginia.