Rebecca Espana

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series chronicling a former resident and housekeeper at America’s Best Value Inn in Geneva.

The stock market is doing well. Witness healthy 401k accounts and low unemployment rates. On the other hand, there are many who feel the country is on the brink of a recession.

In reality, there is a segment of the population to whom those metrics mean absolutely nothing: the low-income wage earner who likely doesn’t own any stocks or bonds, but perhaps collects stamps — as in the food variety. Many live hand-to-mouth, struggling to survive with their children, unable to afford a vehicle or even the costs to insure and maintain one.

It is a vulnerable, disenfranchised population that all too often has little power to be heard. It is a class of people who are, in some ways, invisible — even when they’re standing in front of you.

Rebecca España, 43, of Geneva is someone who hopes to emerge from those figurative shadows — and telling her story is the first step.

A low wage earner holding down two jobs, she occasionally has had to depend on the state Department of Social Services for help, and is appreciative of it.

She has four children. Two are young adults; the youngest are twins in their teens. One lives with her grown daughter, the other with her. Her husband was deported to Mexico in 2004 and hasn’t seen the twins since they were 3 months old. That same year Rebecca suffered a stroke.

Life hasn’t been easy, but she has continued to work. It has been her housing situations that have been problematic.

It is often difficult for low-income earners to find suitable housing. Conditions are poor, codes are violated, etc., ultimately resulting in DSS placing her and many others in temporary housing. And, DSS’ options to find temporary housing for people like Rebecca likely are limited.

The go-to place locally is America’s Best Value Inn on Hamilton Street in Geneva. It has a couple hundred units, with over two dozen rooms specifically for DSS individuals/families placed there.

Because Rebecca took on a job working seven days a week in housecleaning there, she was able to see firsthand — and expose — some of what she finds are questionable practices occurring on-site.

Rebecca pays $185 per week in rent. DSS adds another $300 or so for a basic motel room. I am pretty sure that for $1,600-plus a month one deserves more for the money.

The accompanying photo shows the two pillows given to Rebecca — with no pillow cases — when she arrived. According to Rebecca — remember, she was a housekeeper there — the motel has a separate pile of washed, but stained and dingy sheets and towels used only for DSS residents. She was told to give each room only one towel and one washcloth, no matter how many people lived there. They are never switched out by the motel. The resident is responsible for washing his or her own stuff.

Because the pay washing machines there don’t have the capacity to fit a bed covering, Rebecca thinks very few DSS bed covers have been washed — possibly for years. One can request a vacuum, mop or broom from the office if needed.

Rebecca had to buy her own microwave because the one provided didn’t work. Her refrigerator broke not too long after she moved in; it was not replaced for weeks. Her air conditioner neither gets cold during summer or provides heat for winter.

The day she moved in she found two hypodermic needles under the bed.

She worries whether airborne mold or bacteria exists that might be harmful to her daughter or other kids staying there.

The hygienic conditions are suspect for a population that can’t always afford to be thoroughly clean.

Why is Rebecca is coming forward? She is tired of being treated poorly because of her economic status.

“We are all human beings and deserve to be treated with some sort of dignity and respect,” she says.

Until last August, Rebecca says there was a homeless representative from Catholic Charities with an office at DSS. She was a go to person for residents complaints about the motel. Unfortunately residents claim no action was ever taken.

Unable to get their heads above water financially, so many people placed at America’s Best Value Inn often are stuck there. Rebecca España equates it to a sinkhole from which escape is difficult.

Tomorrow — Part II: What are the specific temporary housing guidelines required by the Department of Social Services, and is America’s Best Value Inn following them?

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