Pam's Points: Stretch for the poor, move those boats and kudos to Corker

Pam's Points: Stretch for the poor, move those boats and kudos to Corker

June 7th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Patten Towers

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Disaster at home invisible?

What does it say about our town that the handicapped and desperately poor residents of Patten Towers had to spend almost a week on cots and the Red Cross and Salvation Army groups still caring for them can't rally donations to help feed and clothe them?

The residents finally are in hotels, but the disaster assistance agencies helping them are breaking their budgets -- spending more than $80,000 since a fire nearly two weeks ago left 241 people essentially homeless.

When Hurricane Katrina brought flood refugees to Chattanooga, this community opened its arms and wallets.

But now, our own are without, and we are motionless. Perhaps we all think Patten Towers' owner, PK Management, will step up? Looks like we'd best think again. A promised endowment from PK hasn't materialized, and donations have failed to keep pace with the cost.

These Patten Tower residents are elderly and infirm people who lost their apartments because a grossly mismanaged, rent-subsidized Section 8 building -- a once stately and historic hotel -- was allowed to be patched together with bubble gum and masking tape.

Most displaced residents subsist on less than $12,000 a year in Social Security disability payments. Still, they paid a little more than $200 a month for rent, and government vouchers provided about another $400 a month per person to the for-profit PK Management.

Over the weekend, PK finally was shamed by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke into moving the refugees off their cots in the Brainerd Recreation Center to hotels. But still another week later, and the Red Cross and Salvation Army continue to have to feed them and help with medical needs.

These are not invisible people. They need help. So do the Salvation Army and Red Cross -- the only lifelines these folks have seen since firefighters carried them to safety nearly two weeks ago. Stretch, Chattanooga.

Sequester hits Riverbend

Boaters trying to get to Riverbend -- or back to their dock -- this week will run smack into the effects of federal sequestration as the Army Corps of Engineers has eliminated staff overtime and since January has closed the locks at 3 a.m. -- just about the same time some festival boaters will be headed upriver from partying.

Riverbend inconvenience got the headline Thursday, but the truth is the sequester's impact on the locks has a negative affect on overall barge business and therefore on all of us who depend on the deliveries that tow boats push up and down the Tennessee River.

At stake in the sequester is the $932,000 in overtime the Corps spends on lock operations for tows and barges that operate 24/7. In January, hours were cut at Chickamauga Lock to close operations from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Clive Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, said barges waiting after 3 a.m. for locks to open at 7 a.m. lose $400 an hour.

We shouldn't be surprised that river access is not free. Government is a service, not an entitlement.

Kudos to Corker, Isakson

How gratifying it is to see U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., take a step back from the fruitless GOP Benghazi choir book.

The two made upbeat and positive statements this week about President Barack Obama's nomination of Susan Rice as his new national security adviser. Rice has been the GOP punching bag since the September attacks in Benghazi.

After speaking with her on the phone, Corker pledged to work with her on "shaping important foreign policy and national security issues. And Isakson defended her, calling her a "scapegoat."

"She's a competent, experienced individual," he said.

Perhaps there is hope for more congressional collaboration and a lessening of obstructionism.

Whither Bessie?

A 17-foot-tall mural to celebrate the indomitable spirit of Howard High students who led the 1960 sit-ins here is commendable. It's an effort in the 500 block of M.L. King Boulevard by a group called Mark Making, a nonprofit organization that creates public art.

But of all the many needy walls in Chattanooga -- and even just on M.L. King -- couldn't organizers have found a wall other than the one already celebrating another African-American leader: Bessie Smith, the queen of Chattanooga home-grown blues?

The murals and new art appearing around town on old railroad parapets and other concrete eyesores are welcome eye candy.

It doesn't seem we have so many, however, that we must cannibalize one for another.