Some of Chattanooga's Patten Towers residents moved again; some are missing

Some of Chattanooga's Patten Towers residents moved again; some are missing

June 12th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Terry Patton carries belongings into his new room after checking into the Intown Suites off Lee Highway early Tuesday afternoon. Patton has been relocated multiple times due to an electrical fire that occurred in the basement of Patton Towers, his former housing complex, late last month.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


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All Jeffery Turner wanted to do was avoid eating cold hot dogs. But that didn't fly at the Motel 6, he said Tuesday.

Turner's been staying at the Williams Street motel for about a week since he and 240 of his elderly or disabled neighbors were barred from their homes at Patten Towers, which caught fire two weeks ago.

Turner, 54, was one of the less unlucky ones. There are still an estimated 40 Patten Towers residents who haven't been located and provided with a place to sleep by PK Management, the company that owns the 11-story Section 8 housing project downtown.

Now, Turner is in the less lucky group.

"That man kicked me out because of a hot plate. All I cooked was some hot dogs. ... I slept in one of my neighbor's cars last night," Turner said Tuesday while standing at Metropolitan Ministries.

Motel 6 officials could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.

Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries, said her organization was setting Turner up with a place to stay. But tracking the other missing people down has been tough -- mainly because communication from PK Management has been lacking, she said.

Even locating residents who have been placed in hotels is difficult for local service providers, depending on which list they have.

"There's a Patten Towers evacuation list, those are all the people who were actually evacuated. Then there's a list PK Management sent out on [June 5], then another sent later, but those don't match," Whelchel said.

Through rough cross-referencing and contact with other nonprofits, Whelchel said her best estimate is 204 residents have been located. That leaves 37 who are missing.

Not even included in the numbers are residents who were possibly living in Patten Towers without permission.

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"There's no way to account for those. I don't know how many heads were in that building," Whelchel said.

Missing residents could be in serious trouble, said Donna Maddox, director of Johnson Mental Health Center. Some have behavioral disorders or serious medical issues, she said. Maddox already has encountered some of her organization's clients who had gone days without medication.

To find those who have fallen between the cracks, Maddox said her organization started running listed residents through its own electronic databases. She was looking to find matches for anyone who previously had contact with the medical center.

"We tried to touch as many people as we could. ... We cannot let these people go without acute needs being addressed," she said.

PK Management officials have said the company would pay for hotel stays until Tuesday, but Maddox wonders what happens after that. Even if residents are moved to other hotels and their stays are extended, service providers will have to start tracking them down all over again -- unless PK Management lets nonprofits in the loop.

"Obviously the concern everybody has is, once dispersed again, how are we going to find them," Maddox said.

Some of those moves already have happened.

Twelve residents staying in hotels close to downtown were moved Tuesday and today to farther flung locations, reportedly to make room for Riverbend guests.

PK Management Director of Community Relations Joyce Walker wrote in an email circulated to local social services organizations Monday that four residents staying at the Days Inn on Carter Street were moved Monday to the Comfort Inn on Williams Street, and eight residents staying at Rodeway Inn on Williams Street will move today into two InTown Suites extended stay living locations on Gunnbarrel Road and Lee Highway.

Lamar Heard, general manager of the Days Inn downtown, said Monday the move was planned from the start.

"It was outlined in the very beginning -- that we would accommodate them for a week and then we have the Riverbend Festival. That's one of our busiest weeks of the year," Heard said.

Carlos Villeda, front desk clerk at Rodeway Inn, said Monday most Patten Towers residents would stay until checkout time today but would have to leave later to make room for Riverbend guests. Another left early.

"Well, no, the situation we have now is that, [today] to the weekend we won't be having any availability, we've overextended," Villeda said. "There was one guest we were having problems with illegal activities, but the manager decided we couldn't let [the guest] stay."

It was unclear Tuesday whether that resident has been located and provided shelter.

City and PK Management officials have said residents should be able to return to Patten Towers in seven weeks, once fire damage is repaired and some key needs were addressed. Walker with PK Management did not respond to phone calls or emails Tuesday concerning he company's plans after Tuesday or an updated number for residents who haven't been contacted.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@times or 423-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.