At the heart of Overtown on 10th St. and 3rd Ave. stands a small boutique hotel transporting its guests to the 1920s with an all-encompassing Harlem Renaissance theme and feel.
The Black-owned hotel is controversial for two reasons: its location and a mission that promotes extending a helping hand to the community’s most vulnerable population.
November marks the eighth month since the Dunns Josephine hotel opened its doors to the homeless.
Owner Kristin Kitchen – who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years – had hoped to transform the last historic hotel in the area into one that showcased Black culture and a time when her people thrived. She officially opened for business last December, but soaring cases of COVID-19 in Miami threw a wrench into her plans.
Hotelier Kristin Kitchen (L) and director of sales and marketing Metris Batts-Coley at the Dunns Josephine hotel.
Making the best of an unfortunate situation, Kitchen has partnered with the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust to shelter and provide resources to those who have tested positive for the virus.
“When we opened last year, we had planned to employ the homeless through CareerSource. We were in the hiring process when COVID-19 hit,” said Kitchen. “Within 24 hours of hotels shutting down, we were meeting with representatives from the Trust to see what we could do.”
This came at a time where the City of Miami Police and Florida Department of Transportation were reportedly conducting mass evictions of people residing in tents near the NW 11th St. overpass.
After contracting the virus or being in contact with someone who is confirmed positive, the displaced currently living in shelters across Miami-Dade are transferred to a participating hotel for quarantine.
At the Dunns Josephine, each atypical guest is given a cellphone and assigned to a room with amenities such as a microwave, refrigerator and coffee pot. Courtesy of the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless organization, contactless meal distributions take place by setting trays with food near the occupant’s door.
The Dunns Josephine hotel was hard hit by COVID-19 after officially opening last December under Kristin Kitchen's leadership.
Hotel staff are instructed to clean at least 10 times a day and forbid anyone from entering a room within 24 hours of a guest’s departure.
An outdoor courtyard space for lounging is available; social distancing and mask-wearing is enforced at all times.
The 15-bed temporary isolation center does not allow family visitation or encourage guests to leave the hotel without first testing negative.
“We are very pleased with the opportunity to change the narrative about the homeless. This is a well-run operation that treats everyone with respect,” Kitchen noted. “We’re here as long as they need us. This is an extended opportunity to carry out our mission to support the community.”
While outsiders were skeptical about letting this particular population inhabit such a luxurious hotel, Kitchen told The Miami Times that she had no reservations about opening her business to the homeless.
She went on to explain that there is no major distinction between them and other people, except for the card they were dealt.
“Who are the homeless? They are people who get up for work every day that aren’t able to afford where they live. Homelessness is not something difficult to come by in Miami, especially with current housing costs and gentrification,” she said.
Since its inception, the Dunns Josephine has been described as “unsafe” and “sketchy” by travelers who felt burdened by the presence of homeless people in the area. Now that they’ve opened their doors to those same people, Kitchen risks future backlash and her hotel’s reputation. Yet she remains optimistic about the impact this could have on the community.
“Some tend to demonize the least of us. Our job is to treat [the homeless] with the same dignity and respect as our regular guests. When our community thrives, we thrive,” she remarked.
Ronald Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, indicated that the partnership with Kitchen is one of the greatest ones in existence since stepping into his role nearly 26 years ago.
“It’s hard to find people that understand our population. Overtown is a vulnerable community that has absorbed its fair share of what homelessness does in a community,” he said. “We have dedicated a lot of resources to the area, but having a provider like this is a big deal. No other has served a greater purpose than the Dunns Josephine.”
Additional hotels under contract with the Homeless Trust are the Hampton Inn, Mia Casa in North Miami and the Red Roof Inn near Miami International Airport. Through Book, the isolation sites are provided with proper PPE, case managers, health care services and counseling.
“We are mindful of how expensive and difficult housing in South Florida is. Our goal is to continue to double down in our efforts in hopes of ending homelessness long term in our community,” said Book.
Kitchen, along with Metris Batts-Coley, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, advocates for the needs of their guests even after checking out, by helping them look for jobs or simply acting as a resource as they navigate through life.
“People are always afraid of homelessness and have a wrong understanding of what happens when you make spaces available to [the homeless]. Opportunities to house them don’t lead to destruction,” said Book, hoping to educate the public about his line of work. “Our goal is to help those who are not in the position to help themselves, whether it’s because of economic, addiction or mental health.”
Kitchen is open to continue hosting the homeless amid the current resurgence in COVID-19 cases across Miami-Dade County.