Editorial: Scrutinize operators, but not shelter residents

The owners of the Wading River Motel house the homeless, but they’re no heroes.

With the county paying about $96 every day to put people up in each of 32 rooms at the motel, the owners could make over $1.2 million in a single year, assuming maximum occupancy. All this with very little overhead, though maybe some headaches. In a perfect world, a big chunk of that money would go into keeping the motel in tip-top shape. But that’s not the world we live in. These people are in it for the money; they’ll cut corners when possible. And the county really has no better choices. When the social services commissioner describes the Wading River Motel owners as model providers of emergency housing, keep in mind that everything is relative; that’s the reality of the racket. Of course, the motel owners are free to earn money however they can. It’s the government’s duty to make sure its people are safe.

So you could imagine the level of disappointment and loss of faith some of those already disillusioned motel guests must have experienced when their own local government’s social services department found shelter for them and their children — only to have a different government agency force them from their rooms during a four-hour raid and run background checks on them.

There’s no greater infringement on the feeling of personal safety and security than being forced from one’s own home by any sort of authority, especially for a child — and this is where the town erred in judgment.

The town has argued that a raid was necessary because people’s safety was at risk. Officials said a pre-planned inspection of the premises only would have resulted in a false presentation of what was really going on there, because it would have allowed the owners time to clean the place up. That argument doesn’t hold water, mainly because town code enforcers and other officials never even tried to explore such an avenue. Besides, how could a motel owner “clean up” electrical work and plumbing allegedly installed without the proper permits? The town could have also attempted to execute an unannounced inspection without the presence of a warrant, but it didn’t.

So why the raid? Maybe town officials know something the rest of us do not. Perhaps they were sure there was no way the motel owners would have let inspectors nose around without a warrant. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because they never tried — and no town official has said that was the case. But we’ll skip the conjecture.

The bottom line is that these shelter operators deserve intense scrutiny and need to be watched and monitored by various levels of government, as they are entrusted to care for some of the most vulnerable of populations. When questioned by the News-Review last week about alleged code violations in the motel, many explanations put forth by a Wading River Motel owner, Anthony Marino Jr., were either unbelievable, contradictory or just didn’t make much sense. But the homeless adults and children placed on his property should not have been treated with suspicion. They were on Aug. 12. They were victimized. And the town may pay dearly for its missteps, through court settlements, a damaged reputation or both.