Economy Inn closure displaces at least 12 Hamilton County students

Economy Inn closure displaces at least 12 Hamilton County students

February 14th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Breaking News

Rain falls as workers cut plywood to board up windows at the Economy Inn on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Over 100 residents were forced out of their homes on short notice after authorities condemned the building as a public nuisance.

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

Gallery: More than 800 calls to police lead to abrupt shutdown of Economy Inn

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The abrupt closure of the Economy Inn on Brainerd Road Wednesday left at least 12 Hamilton County students displaced, according to school officials.

The district was alerted to the situation by city officials earlier in the week, but residents of the hotel were given no notice of the eviction, which sent some families scrambling to find housing while their children were in school.

That earlier notice, which stemmed from efforts to improve on the 2015 Superior Creek Lodge condemnation, helped the district line up services and resources for students and their families, said Jill Levine, the chief of Hamilton County's Opportunity Zone, which encompasses 12 of the district's highest-needs schools.

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The abrupt closure of the Economy Inn on Brainerd Road Wednesday left at least 12 Hamilton County students displaced, according to school officials.

The district was alerted to the situation by city officials earlier in the week, but residents of the motel were given no notice of the eviction, which sent some families scrambling to find housing while their children were in school.

That earlier notice, which stemmed from efforts to improve on the 2015 Superior Creek Lodge condemnation, helped the district line up services and resources for students and their families, said Jill Levine, the chief of Hamilton County's Opportunity Zone, which encompasses 12 of the district's highest-needs schools.

Alisha McLaughlin, the district's homeless liaison, said the Superior Creek Lodge incident left many "traumatized."

"Two and a half years ago, there was a large incident where we had several students and families that didn't have anywhere to go," McLaughlin said. "The city made us aware ahead of time due to that and to combat the trauma and effect it would have on kids."

Students at Barger Academy, East Ridge Middle and High School and Brainerd High School were affected, according to district officials.

The school district made sure counselors and McLaughlin were on site at the schools Wednesday. McLaughlin also visited the Economy Inn.

"My presence was at the hotel today I walked around from room to room, talked to families and asked them if their students were in school today," she said.

The district had been informed of 11 students, but since families with housing insecurity don't often have up-to-date address information, McLaughlin said they were worried even more students had been affected.

One such student from Brainerd High School was identified. The district worked with community partners to get the student and the student's mother, who is disabled, placed into another hotel.

The district also has collected care packages and extra clothing and uniforms to provide to the students and their families.

Food and clothing is the easier part, said John Cunningham, community schools coordinator for Hamilton County Schools. Cunningham said the district is worried about students' access to medication, as well as long-term resources.

The federal McKinney- Vento Homeless Assistance Act ensures that students are able to stay at their schools, even if the displaced family relocates somewhere outside that school's zone, but sometimes transportation to those schools becomes a challenge — stability is the goal though, McLaughlin said.

"Students in times of crises or if they are deemed homeless in the school district have the option to stay at their school of origin for the entire year," she said. "They know their school, their teachers, their friends. At a time when everything else is upside down, that will help provide that continuity and stability for them."

McLaughlin meets with the district's homeless or transient families on a regular basis, and many of the initiatives backed by proponents of the community school model provide the types of services and resources that families need in times like these.

"Our goal is eventually the school will be our hub for the resources that our service providers in the community currently provide," Cunningham said.

The district is in the initial planning stages of adding the model seen at Red Bank High School in partnership with Northside Neighborhood House to all the schools in the Opportunity Zone. Those services include social workers, counselors, classes for parents and connections to other resources in the community.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.


This story was updated Feb. 14, 2018, at 11:19 p.m.