Mayor Andy Berke says he will put a 6-foot fence around the Harriet Tubman housing site to secure it for demolition and from vagrants who sneak into the boarded-up buildings, but East Chattanooga residents say a fence won't deter people who have nowhere else to go.
"A fence is just going to add to the process of getting in there," said East Chattanooga advocate Patrick Kellogg. "We have to be more compassionate."
Residents report that at least some of the people now sleeping in the 440-unit development used to live there, Kellogg said.
The City Council this month agreed to buy a 6-foot-high, 4,700-foot-long fence to secure the 36-acre site. Quality Fence Co. expects to start installing it Tuesday. The City Council approved $39,000 for the fence.
Demolition is scheduled to begin around midsummer, said Lacie Stone, communications director for Berke.
Chattanooga Housing Authority Executive Director Betsy McCright said the housing agency understands the need for a fence.
"It's never good to have people squatting there," McCright said. "There could be fires or it could become a haven for crime or drug use."
Kellogg said a more compassionate approach to the squatters would be to hire them to secure the site or help clean it up. A person doesn't need a high school diploma to pick up bricks, said Kellogg.
The housing authority sold the site to Chattanooga in April for $2.6 million. The housing agency started relocating residents in December 2011.
McCright said all tenants were relocated to other public housing sites or issued housing vouchers.
But not everybody found housing, said Anna Gaines, who has lived across from Tubman for 11 years. And some who did couldn't keep it or lost utilities because they had no idea how to budget for bills. The housing authority needs to teach residents how to budget and survive without public housing, Gaines said.
Gaines was one of several people sitting on a porch near the Tubman site discussing the need for public housing.
Berke promises to put jobs on the site that will hire people from the community, but some of the people on the porch were skeptical.
"Are we going to get a job?" said Thaddius Montgomery, 23. "Let's see if we get a job."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-767-6431.