CLARKSVILLE — Some residents of the America's Best Inn & Suites in Clarksville have already been displaced about a week before the hotel is officially set to close.
As they work to find permanent housing for the long-term hotel residents, members of the recently formed Homeless Prevention Task Force organized a protest Saturday to bring awareness to the need for affordable housing options in the area and to encourage the town to provide assistance.
America’s Best, located at 342 Eastern Boulevard, will close to all residents on July 19 — the 140-room hotel provided 65 families with a 30-day notice to vacate on June 19, two days after the sale of the property was finalized. However, some families who have struggled to pay the hotel rent were forced to leave the hotel Friday evening and Saturday, according to Homeless Prevention Task Force member Jim Moon, who is also the pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church.
A sale of the hotel was finalized between America's Best's previous owner and an Indianapolis-based investor on June 17, and the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission announced its plans to purchase the hotel property on June 26. The Homeless Prevention Task Force formed following the news of the hotel sale to find housing and resources for the 148 residents, and it consists of service providers such as Haven House Services, Park Memorial Church, Jesus Cares at Exit 0, Community Action of Southern Indiana and others.
The task force gathered with a group of hotel residents and other community members for the protest at Clarksville’s Veterans Crossing development off of Veterans Parkway. Hotel residents held up signs with words such as "we matter," "don't forget about the people" and "help us and our children."
I’m at Veterans Crossing in Clarksville, where community members have gathered to protest the town’s handling of the displacement of residents from the America's Best Inn and Suites property on Eastern Boulevard. pic.twitter.com/fcUSiP5FAk— Brooke McAfee (@Brooke_E_McAfee) July 13, 2019
According to Moon, the protest was spurred by the early displacement of families this weekend — he said two families were forced to leave the hotel Friday night due to delays in paying the hotel rent, along with at least four families on Saturday. At the protest, he urged the Town of Clarksville to provide assistance for the residents, saying he would like to see funds toward rapid rehousing of the residents.
He said one of the families that was displaced Friday included children ages 2 and 4 and a 4-month-old baby, and the family slept in their cars because they didn't have enough money to find other accommodations.
"It was a family that we had already gotten a place to live next week," Moon said. "But they were put out last night, and their actual move-in date was Monday.”
The News and Tribune was unable to reach the hotel owner as of press time. Barbara Anderson, executive director of Haven House, also criticized America’s Best Inn & Suites for a lack of communication.
“Here’s the issue we have with all of this — these folks had until next week,” she said. "Now, had we known that they were going shut people out, we could have paid for them to stay. The owner was not working with us at all.”
Anderson said she feels that the task force is making progress, and she appreciates the generosity she has seen from the community — as of Saturday, the task force had raised about $19,000 for Community Action of Southern Indiana.
However, while they have found housing for 24 families as of Saturday, it takes time to identify affordable options that will be available to the residents within the short time frame, she said, and the Haven House shelter is already over-capacity with more than 90 residents. 28 families are still living at the hotel.
"Today's protest is because it's just one more slap in the face of the people that we're serving, and then there have been no real preventive measures taken by anyone," she said. "There were lots of people culpable in making this a last minute thing. It could have easily been managed in an open and honest manner by people at the hotel."
Mike Green has lived at the America's Best with his daughter and grandchildren for nine months, and he has encountered issues finding affordable housing for his family because of a past eviction. After missing a rent payment, he was told to leave the hotel Friday night, and as of Saturday afternoon, he said it was likely that they would be sleeping in a van this weekend.
"Somebody needs to help," he said. "I can go back to living in a car or a van or whatever, but my grandkids can't."
Moon said the Homeless Prevention Task Force is exhausting all efforts to find housing for people at America’s Best Inn & Suites, saying the service providers have not had enough time to find permanent housing for the hotel’s residents.
“They gave a 30-day notice, and they expect the service providers in our area to provide housing for these people, and that’s just not enough time,” he said. "So we’re protesting the fact that there’s not been an adequate period of time for the residents here to be cycled through and actually be put into permanent housing. That’s what we’re protesting.”
He said residents might also be concerned about paying rent for a whole week when they are not sure where they will be a week from now, he said.
Paul Fetter, president of Clarksville Town Council, said the town will not have control over the America's Best property until August, and it was the current property owner's decision to provide residents with the 30-day time frame. He said the hotel had "ample opportunity if they wanted to move along residents at any time."
"We didn't negotiate the deals for when to move the residents out," he said.
At a meeting earlier this month, Moon asked for $30,000 contribution from the council in support of the America's Best residents, but the council did not discuss the request. Fetter said the council intends to discuss the possibility of providing assistance at Tuesday's meeting.
"There’s a lot to discuss, certainly when it comes to dealing with taxpayer money," he said. "We want to evaluate what options are in the budget before we allow the money to be given."
Jesse Varner, who is from Jeffersonville, lives at America's Best with his wife and kids, including his 9-year-old daughter with special needs. They came to the hotel for temporary housing as he struggled to find a permanent home — he said a past felony and a previous eviction have both made it difficult for him to find permanent housing, and it is difficult to save money when he is paying $300 to $400 a week stay at the hotel.
He doesn't know where his family will go after July 19. He attended Saturday's protest with his daughter, and he created a sign with the words "Is dislodging families what you would to your own."
"If can’t find something, me and my family will be sleeping in the car with two dogs," Varner said. “This is a recurring problem across the states, period. Housing should be affordable. They should have more affordable housing for people in general."