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Motel 6 closures due to 'social distancing' threaten to put homeless on the street

The motel chain says state and local rules in response to the spread of coronavirus forced the suspension of operations at some of its locations.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The huge lighted sign at the Bellingham Motel 6 advises people there's "No vacancy" and to "Be well." 

But many staying here wonder if that's possible, now that they're being told to leave. 

"There's no place to go and COVID-19 doesn't have boundaries," Matthew Finkbonner said.

Motel 6 said it is closing some of its locations in Washington state to abide by the new state and local rules put in place in response to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Motel 6 company spokesman told KING 5 in an email that due to "social distancing requirements we have made the difficult decision to suspend operations at several Motel 6 locations in Washington state."

RELATED: Real-time updates: Latest news on the Washington coronavirus outbreak

Hundreds of people from Issaquah to Bellingham, including entire families, are now being told they have to leave their motel rooms as soon as their reservations run out.

But at low-budget motels, many people are not just staying for a night. They live there because they can't find an affordable apartment. 

RELATED: Bellingham mom of 5 shares plight of being homeless during coronavirus outbreak

Finkbonner has lived at the motel for the past nine months with his wife, three kids and 68-year-old father. He says they'd all likely have to live in his car and sleep at a rest stop if Motel 6 follows through with its plan to shut down.

"I just don't understand why they're putting people in danger to close a motel down. There's no COVID-19 here."

Greg Winter is a homeless advocate with Bellingham's Opportunity Council. He says motel stays are critical.

"Our first priority is that no child sleeps outside," he says. "Our hotel partners are one of the quickest, safest ways for us to provide immediate shelter."

On Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee ordered a 30-day statewide ban on evictions from homes in Washington but a spokesman for his office says that does not apply to those living in motels. That could change, however.

RELATED: Gov. Jay Inslee bans evictions of those facing a financial impact from the coronavirus pandemic

Meantime, Matthew Finkbonner plans to stand his ground.

"I will not leave," he says. "They'll have to force me out."

City and county leaders say they are working on a plan to find additional hotel rooms for those being put out. 

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