Displaced Patten Towers residents seeking answers

Displaced Patten Towers residents seeking answers

June 2nd, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Residents of Patten Towers receive food from Salvation Army workers outside the Brainerd Recreation Complex on Saturday.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Patten Towers be closed?

A man tried to talk with displaced Patten Towers residents Saturday, they said. He tried to tell them that his staff is doing its best to find the residents somewhere better to stay for now, that its owner will bring their old home up to code and bring the residents back within two months.

But others said they couldn't hear Joe Conti, the facility director of PK Management. Some Patten Towers residents could see Conti's lips moving, but it was too loud inside the Brainerd Recreation Complex gymnasium.

Some residents bickered with each other. Others said they yelled at Conti, demanding more concrete answers.

"What are we supposed to do?"

"How long is it going to take?"

"When are we going to get there?"

Some 110 Patten Towers residents, many elderly or disabled, remained at the recreation complex Saturday, four days after an electrical fire in the basement of their old home forced all 241 tenants out.

PK Management has owned Patten Towers, a federally subsidized housing complex, since last June.

The company's staff hopes to move all residents out of the recreation center by Monday so it can be open to families looking to play basketball or go swimming, said Jeff Cannon, Mayor Andy Berke's deputy chief of staff.

Cannon said PK Management employees evaluated hotels Saturday where the residents could live for the next two months. They also asked residents whether they could stay with family, and what items -- such as medication -- they needed from their old apartments, from which residents have been banned since the fire.

But as of Saturday night, Cannon said PK Management has not moved anybody out. He has heard they will begin moving people this morning, though he could not say where.

"They're not sharing with us, 100 percent, what their plan is," Cannon said.

When a reporter asked for an update on the housing search Saturday, a PK Management employee said nobody could provide information.

"We have no comment at this time," she said.

'Talk to me'

Some of the residents said that, more than anything else, they want more open communication.

"You don't know what the hell is going on next," said 56-year-old David Elliott, who described himself as Patten Towers' "spiritual liaison" and on Saturday carried a paperback New International Version Bible. "They talkin' to everybody else. But they ain't talkin' to you. Come and see me. Come and see me. Talk to me."

Patten Towers in Chattanooga

Several residents said they were frustrated during Saturday's meeting with Conti because he was late. The day before, residents were told to expect a 10 a.m. meeting Saturday. But Conti talked to them around 12:30 p.m., and during the 21/2 hours in between no one told the residents when he would arrive.

Greg Waite, the Red Cross' local community chapter executive, said PK Management employees also skipped a pair of meetings Saturday.

First, Waite said, they skipped a 9 a.m. meeting attended by, among others, representatives from the Salvation Army, the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency and the Chattanooga mayor's office. Then PK representatives skipped a meeting with social service agencies such as Goodwill and the Hamilton County Health Department.

Waite also said that PK Management employees told him they would have a long-term plan by the end of Friday. As of 6 p.m. Saturday, he still had not heard anything.

"It's almost like right is not talking to the left," he said. "There's a complete disconnect with what's going on. We've told them, 'We're here. We're here to help you. We just need to know what you want. We just need to know what your goals are.'"

Daily frustrations

Waite said the Red Cross, with help from the Salvation Army, has served about 900 meals and provided 1,200 snacks, Gatorades and waters each day. They've given out T-shirts, underwear and adult diapers. In all, he said, they're spending about $10,000 a day, enough to qualify the event as a national disaster.

Some living inside the recreation center, where cots are lined up side by side in the gym, described daily frustrations. Lights out for everyone at 10 p.m. Naked men accidentally walking into the wrong showers. Looting.

"Some people just aren't meant to live with other people," said Gwendolyn Davis, 51. "If you don't sleep with your eyes half open, they'll walk off with your stuff."

On Thursday, Davis said, someone stole her pillow, her blanket, four cans of Coca-Cola and a carton of cigarettes. The next day, 61-year-old Robert Graham said a T-shirt, toothbrush, soap, aftershave and deodorant went missing.

It isn't much, he said. But it was most of what he had with him.

Not all of the residents said the experience has been uncomfortable. Reginald Craig, 55, said everyone is working their hardest.

"It's been great around here," he said. "The Salvation Army and the Red Cross, these people have been beautiful, man. Now, if we can get a roof over our head ..."

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.