BARSTOW — Mike Finn was living in a 1,700-square-foot mobile home in Mira Loma when he was struck with heart issues.
He no longer could work and the next thing he knew he lost everything and was on the streets of Ontario running from pit bulls and gangs. He landed in the hospital for heart surgery and eventually wound up at Desert Manna in Barstow to recuperate. He had no other place to go.
His last stop was the Best Motel on Main Street in Barstow. He's been living at the motel for the past five years.
He's not alone. While most motels in Barstow have few customers who have made the rented rooms their homes, so-called "monthlies" can make or break a business, motel owners say.
According to the motel's owner, Roy Patel, Finn is one of his regular "monthlies." Usually half of his 28 rooms are filled with people who pay $550 to $600 to stay for a month. He says it's been like that since he took over the motel in 2007.
"My intention was to do all the rooms up and have travelers only," Patel said. "But there is no business in town. We have to have the larger hotels taking all the cake. There's nothing left for us smaller motels."
Patel is referring to the larger motels in Lenwood near the outlet mall and near the Main Street exit from Interstate 15. He soon discovered that it wasn't worth the money to renovate the whole motel.
While his motel does get business from travelers and workers, he depends on the monthlies to help pay the bills. But he says it's a lot of work.
"I'm on top of them all the time," Patel said. "I have a full book of what goes on here."
Patel finds out pretty quickly who are the troublemakers. Some have friends using their rooms to take showers. Others party and make noise. And others are suffering from mental conditions and fail to take their medications and yell all night, disturbing the travelers and others staying in the motel.
"That's why I keep an eye on them," he said.
He often tells the troublemakers that they have to leave. If they return, he raises the room rate to $900 a month.
"We do have some check in that rate, but then we will let them know the next month we are not going to renew their rent."
But Patel says some of his monthlies stay long periods of time. Two of his monthlies have been living at the motel for more than 10 years. He says they are quiet and keep to themselves.
"It's not bad, because you have to figure the benefits," Finn said. He pays for his motel room with his Supplemental Security Income.
"You don't have any bills. You have rent, but you have no electric bill, no cable bill, you don't have a phone bill. What's not to like? It's pretty good actually, compared to the bills I had down below. Space rent, mortgage — it wiped me out. I consider this home. It's pretty easy."
Each room is equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave.
"You would be surprised with what you can make in a microwave," Finn said. "You can cook steak, pork chops, chicken. The only thing you can't cook is a turkey."
Finn said some people will use crock pots, but if they use too many electrical appliances at one time, it could break the breaker. It also raises the motel's electrical bill.
"You do eat a lot of fast foods. You have to get used to that. Other than that, it's not too bad. I have no complaints. It's better than living on the streets. I did that for three months. That was a nightmare."
Tony Herschler's nightmare began when his home was damaged in the Mohave Valley, Nev., wildfire last August. His family, consisting of his wife and two children, had to leave and ended up traveling motel to motel. They finally ended up renting in a mobile home park in Barstow.
But they found themselves back on the street again last January after being evicted from their mobile home in the middle of the night. Herschler claims the manager of the park took their debit card. They ended up at the Desert Inn motel.
"She (the owner) let me have the room for the rest of the month for $550. I have to pay her $550 on the first," Herschler said. "We had no money, no gas. She felt sorry for the kids."
A week later, Herschler packed up the family car and left Barstow.
Letting a family stay at the Desert Inn is unusual, according to its owner, Shirley Chen. She charges a single person $500 a month or $600 for a couple.
"Monthlies make me crazy," Chen said. "If we see they are crazy, we ask them to go."
Chen said her husband is constantly making repairs in rooms rented by people by the month. But she said there are "good people" who rent the rooms for the month. She also has two renters who have stayed at the motel for more than 10 years.
"There's a lot of homeless in Barstow. But there are a lot of motels too," she said. "Some people go to Desert Manna. I tell them to go to Desert Manna."
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch