The Union Gospel Mission faces new problems after the Chattanooga City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday night to file a lawsuit and shut it down for housing homeless people in dangerous conditions.
"It's cramped quarters," said Chattanooga Fire Department Chief Randy Parker. "There's too many people in there."
City officials said at Tuesday's council meeting that 35 to 40 homeless people were living in the basement of the church the mission now uses. They described safety hazards such as uncovered electrical outlets, people living by candlelight and bare wiring.
But Jon Rector, executive director of the mission, called the descriptions a "bald-faced lie."
"They're inflating the situation," he said. "Are there some code issues? Yes, but we've been working on that."
Mr. Rector said the mission has been trying to gain proper zoning since it moved into the former Signal Hills Community Fellowship. He said he never knew he was in defiance of zoning laws and has tried working with the city.
"We've had inspectors coming in and out of there on a regular basis," he said.
Public Works Administrator Steve Leach said inspectors found major electrical and gas problems at the mission.
"It's a very dangerous facility for people staying overnight," he said.
Mr. Rector also disputed that 35 to 40 people stayed overnight. He said about 18 people are there now.
The Union Gospel Mission moved into its new home more than a month ago. The mission has a lease with Signal Hills Community Fellowship Inc. with an option to buy after one year, officials said.
Mr. Rector said Tuesday night he has been in touch with his attorney.
"We'll respond to it as soon as possible," he said.
The Union Gospel Mission opened in 1950 at 1260 Market St. It moved to East Main Street and remained there until 2007. Since then it has moved several times and is now at the former Signal Hills Community Fellowship site on Signal Hills Drive.
Source: Union Gospel Mission, Times Free Press archives
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...