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Workers toss items in a dumpster at the Superior Creek Lodge on Monday in East Ridge.

Landlords, churches and community members from across the area are responding to a call from aid workers to assist families displaced when the city of East Ridge condemned Superior Creek Lodge last week. About 1,500 people were forced into homelessness overnight without notice.

A number of landlords have contacted Metropolitan Ministries and offered rental units for families. Some have offered discounted rent, reducing the price by as much as $200 a month. Others have said they will allow residents to pay weekly, as they were used to doing at Superior Creek. And others have offered to help residents set up utilities or wave application fees, deposits or the first month's rent.

"That is a big deal because we haven't had anywhere to send people," said Anna Katherine Horne, the stability navigator at Metropolitan Ministries, a downtown nonprofit organization that works to prevent area homelessness. "It's been really encouraging to know that people in the community care enough to call and let us know what they have to offer."

Get involved

To help families displaced by the closure of Superior Creek Lodge in East Ridge, call Anna Katherine Horne at Metropolitan Ministries at 865-235-6646 or Marcy Hall at East Ridge United Methodist Church between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 706-891-2523.

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As families search for housing, despair mounts

The challenge, Horne said, is that displaced residents are still in need of housing options in the $500-$600 monthly range that won't have high income requirements. Those units have yet to materialize. She is giving contact information for landlords to the displaced families and is expecting to hear good news from them in the next few days, she said.

"It takes time to get these things straightened out," she said. "You can't move someone in in a day."

The local response to the closure of the extended-stay motel has been disjointed. That is, in part, because the sudden eviction wasn't triggered by a typical disaster and lacked a central lead agency. Instead of a response from the likes of the American Red Cross, it came from Metropolitan Ministries, East Ridge United Methodist Church and a few other churches and faith-based nonprofit agencies. They have raised funds to help families pay deposits on rental properties and ease their transition. More funds came in to Metropolitan Ministries on Tuesday to assist with the effort.

Many of the families have steady incomes to pay rent. At Superior Creek Lodge, they paid between $190 and $240 a week in rent and were forced to leave the hotel if they were even an hour late on the rent, according to residents and nonprofit workers.

Yet, dozens of families with children who needed housing were unable to find anyone to rent to them.

For years, the motel has been associated with transience, poverty, prostitution, drug dealing and criminal behavior. As in many neighborhoods and housing projects riddled with poverty and limited economic mobility, Superior Creek Lodge was a frequent stop for police. It was considered a blight by many.

Residents acknowledge that life at Superior Creek was far bleaker than most environments; it came with a host of menacing characters. However, many people living in the extended-stay facility weren't there because they wanted to be. It became an option of last resort, they said, a place to stay while they worked to save for the upfront cost of a new apartment or home.

Aid workers said in a story published in Tuesday's Times Free Press that it had been nearly impossible to find housing for many of the displaced residents. However, on Tuesday Horne said she received many calls.

Some churches have been offering help since the buildings were evacuated.

Pastor Ken Sauer of East Ridge United Methodist Church said the church's children's ministry is working with 29 displaced families. His church, in partnership with other churches and individuals, raised $36,000 to help meet the immediate needs of families, many of whom are still in desperate need of permanent housing.

He said East Ridge United Methodist and several other local churches are adopting families. They are hoping to use volunteers to help families navigate the rental market, find money for deposits, collect donated furniture, connect the unemployed or underemployed to job options, provide transportation to work and offer child care for parents who need time to put in rental applications and search for properties.

"Many, many of the United Methodist Churches in the Chattanooga district have donated time and money," Sauer wrote in an email. "God is good. The body of Christ is lifting up the most vulnerable, needy and marginalized among us. Praise God!"

Contact Joan Garrett McClane at 423-757-6601 or jmcclane@timesfreepress.com.

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