And the urgency has increased. A motel can toss out a guest who misses one day's payment.
"They'll live in their car," Fisher said. "If they have a car."
A spokesman for Intown Suites, one of the larger extended-stay chains, said Monday that the company is juggling priorities.
"We are exploring all options to support our guests during these unprecedented times while seeking to ensure we can continue effectively running our establishments, provide outstanding service to all in-house guests and pay our staff," he said.
A spokesman for Extended Stay America offered similar sentiments.
"We are currently evaluating many options to support our hotel guests while working to ensure we can continue to provide excellent service, take care of our associates and maintain high standards at our properties, while providing a safe and clean environment for guests and associates," he said.
Red Roof Inn, which owns HomeTowne Studios, said Monday that the individual motels are independent franchisees. But Red Roof said it is recommending that they provide an unspecified "grace period" for guests who cannot pay.United Way previously jointly funded a similar program with the city of College Park and had a 75% success rate, said Protip Biswas, vice president for homelessness at United Way of Greater Atlanta.
The situation is common. While there are no hard data, social agencies and local officials say thousands of working families in metro Atlanta live in hotels -- generally paying by the week or even by the day.
There are at least 10,000 families in extended-stay motels, "but maybe it's 20,000 or 30,000," Biswas said.
"They are working poor. We tend to ignore them because they are not homeless yet. No one has done a study, except in Norcross. And that was an eye-opener."