CLARKSVILLE — Southern Indiana municipalities have kicked in $50,000 and nearly a dozen housing units this week to assist the roughly 150 residents being displaced from America's Best Inn and Suites when it closes Friday, but as the clock ticks, some families remain uncertain about their future.
The Clarksville Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to give $30,000 to the Homeless Prevention Task Force to aid in the placement of families forced to leave the hotel by Friday. This followed a vote the day before by the Jeffersonville City Council to chip in $20,000. New Albany is assisting by offering 11 housing authority units to affected families.
This brings the total raised by the task force to roughly $70,000, but it says more is needed.
Since the Town of Clarksville announced last month that it planned to purchase the property and redevelop it and residents subsequently were given a 30-day notice to vacate by the previous hotel owner, the task force comprised of community groups such as Haven House, Community Action of Southern Indiana and Park Memorial United Methodist Church, has been "boots on the ground" doing what they could as quickly as possible to help the displaced residents.
Task force members have interviewed all families to determine what their needs are and any potential barriers, such as an eviction or past felony, that could prevent them from renting an apartment. Members have helped pay application fees of more than $100 in some cases, and have been runners in delivering those applications. They've worked to fix cars, secured birth certificates and sought partnerships with local landlords, as well as state and federal funds.
As of Tuesday night, there were still 40 people — 18 of them children — whom the task force had not yet been able to place. Of those already relocated, 10 are in area hotels, which the team says is not sustainable.
"Our goal is not to have them living in hotels but living in apartments, and I think we're well on our way," Barb Anderson, task force member and director of Haven House, said. "[America's Best] has been Clarksville's homeless shelter, whether you wanted one or not."
Tuesday's Clarksville Town Council meeting included about an hour of discussion before the vote, some noting that the emergency situation has opened a conversation about poverty and affordable housing in the area.
"My primary interest is long-term care or resources," councilman Jaime Hunt said. "It's one thing for us to allocate funds, but what happens three or four months down the road when they're not paying their bills?"
Hunt wanted to know if there can be things put in place such as financial aid or mental health counseling.
"There just seems to be other outlying issues that need to be addressed as well," he said.
Anderson said that's part of what the newly-formed group hopes to address with other community partners along the way. Although it started as a result of the residents being forced out of the hotel, it doesn't look as though the group plans to disband once those residents are housed.
"We're not going to drop this," she said. "It's going to take a few months for them to get stable; it's going to take a few months for them to live in a period of affordability."
The task force had requested assistance from the municipalities in relation to their portion of residents there. In Clarksville's case, not only is the hotel in the town, but 40 percent of those living there claim Clarksville as their home.
John Gilkey, councilman for District 2 in which the hotel sits, made the motion for the vote. He said that it was the right thing for the town to do because the situation came up after the town bought the hotel.
"And, in reality, it's probably become a hidden blessing because it has opened a door to finding a solution to a long-term problem," he said.
He told task force members at the meeting that he respected the work they've put in over the past three weeks.
"I want to applaud each and every one of you," he said. "You are laying a new foundation for dealing with homelessness and people who don't have adequate housing.
"When you bring all of you together, you're a steamroller."