TikTok Star Gives Away Free Motel Rooms to People with Nowhere to Stay: 'Everyone Is Welcome'

"To turn your head away from people who are out in the street is the opposite of what we should be doing," says Brian Arya, whose TikTok videos have led to an outpouring of donations for those in need

Ever since he can remember, Brian Acosta Arya has dreamed of a career in showbiz.

With help from his dad, a former nuclear engineer who's always encouraged his upbeat, quick-witted son to shoot for the stars, Arya studied rap as a 15-year-old in New York City, worked for the comedian Pauly Shore while trying to make it as an actor in L.A. and even met with Hollywood heavy hitter Jon Voight in Manhattan.

"He said, 'I can see you in things,'" says Arya, 34, about his pinch-me moment with the renowned actor. "I was like, 'That's great — an Oscar winner giving me words of encouragement.'"

To help pay the bills while auditioning, he runs one of the handful of New Jersey motels bought decades earlier by his dad, 83, who immigrated from India and taught his son how to do everything from greeting guests to "letting people off the hook" if they had trouble paying.

Now, thanks to TikTok, Arya — a natural-born storyteller who makes people laugh easily and can talk to anyone, anywhere — gets to entertain and help others for an audience of millions.

Brian Acosta Arya
Brian Acosta Arya and Steven Fox. Brian Acosta Arya TikTok

"What we're doing here and what we've always done at the Lincoln Tunnel Motel is help people," says Arya about the nondescript, low-slung motel on a gritty stretch of Route 9 in North Bergen where he spent much of his time as a kid.

Brian Acosta Arya
Brian Acosta Arya. Brian Acosta Arya TikTok

In 2019, to help pass the time during tedious overnight shifts, Arya started a hilarious TikTok page, @ltmotel, about life at the $75-a-night, plain-Jane motel, with its merry-go-round of eyebrow-raising drama (like the guest who left behind a live chicken) and colorful cast of characters (like "Steven the maid," who checked in 20 years ago and never checked out).

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Arya, known on social media as "Brian the Motel Guy," told his then-480,000 followers (now 890,000) that the no-frills, 41-room motel was available for anyone who needed a place to quarantine or simply stay because they had nowhere else to go.

His #FreeRoomForU program exploded on TikTok, with people liking his viral videos more than 25 million times and viewing them 156 million times, he says.

So far, he's taken in nearly 100 people who didn't have a place to stay because of homelessness, job loss, eviction or trouble at home.

"Sometimes they come just to kind of get away from really bad situations," says Arya, whose dad made him a partial owner of the motel a few years ago. "Maybe a domestic situation and kind of hiding from that person. And those you can kind of spot."

As someone who is able to read people very well, "I'm empathetic to people who really are honest with me, telling me their situation," he says. "I try to help them out the best I can."

Far from wealthy — the married father of four has said on social media that he can barely afford to pay off his Master Card –— Arya shelled out his own money for guests who couldn't pay, which he was happy to do.

"To turn your head away from unhoused people or people who are out in the street is the opposite of what we should be doing," he says.

Thousands who saw his generosity on TikTok agreed. Donations of food, toiletries, clothes and money to front room charges have poured into the motel and onto an Amazon wishlist he started for guests in need of clothes and other items.

"Not just like sleeping bags, backpacks and tents, which people have donated, but also wigs so that women or anyone who wears a wig can maintain their dignity."

Brian Acosta Arya
Brian Acosta Arya with business partner Kanu Patel and some of the donations the motel has received. Brian Acosta Arya TikTok

The simplest items can make the biggest difference to someone who has very little.

"Do you know how valuable a clear toiletry bag is to someone out on the street that needs something to put their IDs and their documents in?" he asks. "It's just so useful for important papers you don't want to get caught in the rain. We give those out like crazy."

He also gives away donated soaps, wipes and other toiletries.

"I make a little bag for them, a little gift bag because we now have a surplus of these items," he says.

He was even gifted $5,000 when he appeared on The Kelly Clarkson Show in November.

"We love what's you're doing," Clarkson told him on the show. "It's so cool."

In between running the motel and filming TikTok videos, Arya is still pursuing his dream of becoming an actor.

"I've signed to an agency," he says. "I'm still auditioning. I just had an audition this morning."

And from time to time, people will ask him if he's ever seen the hit sitcom Schitt's Creek, about a family who lives at a dilapidated motel — and the colorful cast of characters they encounter.

"I haven't seen the show," he says, laughing. "That's because I've been living Schitt's Creek my whole life, essentially."

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