Jul 3, 2010 4:41 PM by Chris Welty
HOUMA, La. (AP) - Houma Overnight opened its doors recently,
drawing approval from social workers who heralded the expansion of
housing for women and children in an area with a dearth of
But the for-profit venture has drawn concerns from some who
question its security and even the manager's characterization of
the business as a shelter.
The nine-room building offers guests individual refrigerators
and televisions along with a communal kitchen and dining room. The
manager, Wayne Heigl, said the building is accessible by security
card and is equipped with surveillance cameras. Two rooms have
The building will not be staffed 24 hours, he said, at least
The rates run from $44 per night and $248 per week for a single
bed to $49 per night and $293 per week for a double, prices Heigl
said are comparable to local hotels.
He said the shelter targets women and children who need
If Houma Overnight sounds similar to a hotel, it is not a
coincidence. Heigl worked as a manager at Ohio and New York hotels
before he started trucking, he said, a career ended by a stroke. He
now manages rental properties and opened Houma Overnight with money
from investor Allen Estay, owner of Blue Water Shrimp Company in
Dulac, and the Estay family.
"This is my forte. It comes naturally," Heigl said in an
interview at his open house, adding that he eventually plans to
open a hotel.
The similarities Houma Overnight bears to a hotel are a cause
for concern from some, including Julie Pellegrin, executive
director of The Haven, a nonprofit shelter in Houma for women who
are victims of abusive relationships. The Haven offers counseling,
meals and other services for women, who stay free of charge.
Pellegrin said the term "shelter" implies a facility will
offer such services, which Heigl said he does not provide. Houma
Overnight's lack of 24-hour staffing could also pose problems.
"If there are issues that arise, there is no one responding to
those during certain hours," she said. "If someone decides to
give someone their key or bring somebody else with them, it exposes
everyone in that environment to a potential danger."
Darrel Waire, director of housing and human services for
Terrebonne Parish Government, said a lack of staffing is also a
concern. He has not decided whether the parish will send people to
"Even at a hotel, there's usually someone there all day and all
night," he said.
Those who seek shelter are often not capable of paying for a
hotel, Pellegrin said.
"Forty-four dollars a night is pretty steep for them," she
said. "I can't see how that is a shelter. To market it and portray
it as a shelter could be very misleading to people who are very
much in need of help."
Houma Overnight will not house women and children seeking
assistance from an abusive relationship, Heigl said. But he said he
does not intend to ask the women he takes in the circumstances
under which they are seeking housing.
He said it will be apparent from the moment a tenant enters that
he is not offering social service programs.
"I'm not licensed to take people who are abused," he said.
Heigl said he sees no immediate need to staff the business 24
hours. He can watch security cameras remotely through the Internet
and he will make frequent stops at the business, he said.
"If it's a woman and woman-and-children shelter, I don't have
to be there 24 hours," he said. "I don't see a need for that."
He added: "If I have a need to be there, I'll be there."
Heigl said Leonard Chabert Medical Center, law enforcement
agencies and Gulf Coast Teaching Family Services will refer tenants
to him. Amy Lagarde, a social worker with Gulf Coast Teaching
Family Services, said the agency intends to place clients at Houma
Overnight and will direct them to social services.
"Anybody that we would put there, we provide services for,"
she said. "If it's somebody that our agency has placed there, we
will be helping them to get benefits."
Estay said the business fills a housing niche and is better than
the motels agencies used to house the needy.
"What we've got is better suited for what they've been using.
There's more security," he said. "We're not looking to make a
bunch of money. If we can just pay for the place, that's good to
Though Heigl plans to "target" women and children in need of
housing, he said that could change in the future if the approach
doesn't attract enough business. He suggested that he could also
house oil-spill workers.
"I have people to report to with my investors," he said.
"Right now, it's geared toward women and women with children. If
that doesn't work, we'll do something else with it. But that
doesn't mean tomorrow."
The for-profit business arrangement appears unique for a
shelter, said Trey Williams, a spokesman for the state Department
of Social Services.
"This is the first case we've heard of a shelter charging for
people staying there," Williams said. "The main reason is people
who have to rely on a shelter are in a dire situation. If they've
been battered at home, they are limited on the funds they have."