GULFPORT Miss. (WLOX) - No good deed goes unpunished.
A Gulfport motel owner may be feeling that way on Monday after a fire was set in one of the rooms he rented to a homeless woman at a discount rate.
“We try to give them a discount and we just try to help them out so they don’t have to stay in this cold weather like 40 degrees and they don’t want to get freeze up,” said Hitesh Bhalavat, owner of the Super 8 motel on Highway 49 in North Gulfport. “So we try to help them out, but look at what happened.”
Workers at the motel called Gulfport Fire Department Monday morning when they could not find the source of the smell of smoke. Firefighters found a mattress burning in a second-floor room and quickly put it out. The room had been rented to one of the people Bhalavat gave a discount to.
“We have a mattress fire in a room that was rented last night,” said Fire Chief Mike Beyerstadt. “We have the name of the person who rented the room. We want to talk to them and find out what they were doing in there before they left. Piece that together with the evidence that we have and see how those stories match up.”
With temperatures dipping into the 30s this weekend, Bhalavat opened the doors of his motel to several homeless individuals with a discounted room rate. It is a practice he said he has followed for the eight months he has owned the motel.
“We had like 10 or more on Saturday night, yesterday we had like 8 or 10,” he said as employees worked to clean the smoke and water damaged room. “A lot of local people do not have electricity in their home and everything.”
Bhalavat said he is not aware of the efforts of Gulfport Police and their partnership with organizations that help the homeless. Those partners include the Salvation Army, Feed My Sheep, the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi, and the Open Doors Homeless Coalition.
“It’s all a good partnership for us to work together to be able to house these people to get them off the streets,” said Gulfport police homeless intervention officer Sgt. Steven Fore.
He is one of several officers that interact with the homeless in Gulfport and puts their info into an app that provides their information to area agencies.
“So our hope would be that we could coordinate with others in the community to help move people forward in their journey,” said Mary Simons of the Open Doors Homeless Coalition. “So while it is important for people to have shelter in the cold, there are several options, but if the hotel owner could get the people in touch with us at Open Doors Homeless Coalition, we could then connect with the person, provide some case management services and hopefully get them to the next step.”
While Bhalavat said he knows there can be trouble for his property renting to the homeless, he said he will not stop the practice.
“No, one bad apple does not mean the whole basket is bad,” he said. “You can not treat everyone bad just because one person screwed up. We’re going to be a little bit strict? Yes, we are. We don’t rent the rooms if you don’t have IDs anyway.”
Now Bhalavat can be a part of the partnership that can help the homeless improve their plight.
“I can not just let other people suffer because one person is bad,” he said. “Simple.”