UPDATE | City set to open shelter for families displaced from area hotels and motels

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Monday, April 2, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- This is the part of tournament week we don't usually see.

Liz: Three boys and your daughter. Where are you going to go?

Grandmother: I don't know yet we don’t know.

We were there when motel management forced long-term residents out of their rooms.

"The money we had to pay again they said they wouldn’t accept it. They said we had to get out for Masters."

Not just one motel. A nurse was staying at a motel until she built her home. She says the motel gave her a week's notice to get out.

Hours before attending his own reception to welcome golf fans.

"These are individuals who are in Augusta they are good Augustans."

Mayor Hardy Davis announced this:
"We want folks to know if you been here for a period of time, regardless of the circumstance, that has caused them to be displaced from the local hotels that we will look for every opportunity during this significant time, to house and shelter you."

Chief Chris James began planning a short-term fix after watching our investigation. This afternoon his firefighters began unloading supplies and setting up cots inside May Park.

'We are going to do an assessment of what citizens’ show up to the shelter. As needs become available we will update you throughout the week."

Right now, nobody knows how many families are sleeping in cars this week. While the fire department handles the short term fix the city administrator is working on a long-term solution.

"We don't want to do anything or have a negative light cast on this week."

But for these families... It's a light that hopefully leads to change.

The city will utilize local shelters first. Overflow families will come here. If you are needing help you can come here now. This shelter will be here through the tournament.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The city of Augusta says they are prepping to open an alternative "sleep only" shelter for families displaced from area hotels or motels if there are no other options.

They say they are working with the Marion Barnes Resource Center to make sure all available shelters are filled before the shelter for displaced families is opened.

Mayor Hardie Davis and Augusta Fire Chief Chris James say with the help of social media and News 12 they were made aware of some displaced families who were required to leave area hotels and motels for Master's week.

The shelter, if opened, will be set up at May Park Community Center.

The city says registration for the shelters will begin at 4 pm Monday. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office will be assisting with security and background checks.

The Department of Public Health will be doing screenings for people who will be registering for the shelter. They say everyone will need a shelter clearance from the Sheriff's Office. They will also be requiring proof of birth guardianship for children.

They say this is being treated as a "sleep-only" shelter. No meals will be provided. Lights out will be at 10 p.m. They say if no one is at the shelter by 9 p.m. each night then the facility will not be in operation for the night.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- City officials tell News 12 NBC 26 families who are displaced this week will have somewhere to go.

A spokesperson for the Augusta Fire Department and Emergency Management says Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. and Chief Chris James will hold a press conference tomorrow morning on options for displaced families.

City leaders also plan to address their opposition to hotels hiking up their rates and kicking people out of the hotels they call home.

News 12 NBC 26 will be at the press conference tomorrow morning. We will be sure to keep you updated on this story.

March 31, 2018
(News 12 at 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT)-- People who've looked to hotels for long-term stay instead of an apartment or house are finding themselves with nowhere to turn this week. As hotel rates sky rocket, people are being kicked out. It's a situation that's even affecting people with full-time jobs.

"I never in my life knew people would be moved out of hotels because they want the people who are going to pay more money to come in."

While the city is unpacking and prepping for a vibrant week, Cindy Kureth is dealing with a dim situation, the task of packing up her hotel room. She says the hotel manager told her she needed to be out by noon on Sunday. So she found herself turning to her car for shelter.

"This is where I'm going to be sleeping probably for the next two weeks," Kureth looked around. "Yep, I'll put pillows across the console and on my back, and crack the windows, and find a home--or a parking lot somewhere."

It's no longer just her transportation, her home now has four doors and five windows. Her white minivan is where she'll lay her head
in the front seat every night now. At least, until she can afford a hotel room again.

"I can't even fathom the prices of the hotel and I can't even imagine me paying the high costs for just a couple nights."

Cindy is a nurse at Fort Gordon. She's been staying in her room for three months trying to save up to buy a house. Originally, she planned to have at least six months.

Cindy said, "It has gone to five hundred and something dollars a night, and I was only paying in the sixties, close to the seventies."

So while the rest of the city is getting pretty, Cindy sits in her car facing an ugly truth: she is both scared and worried.

Just miles away from her, Augusta Housing and Community Development held an event. It was planned as an afternoon of Easter fun but city staff made themselves available to people who are displaced.

HCD Director Hawthrone Welcher Jr. said displacement is nothing new and the city is working on a plan.
"We want to be sure that we have a strategic plan and one that we can really articulate well." Adding, "One that has been approved and backed by our city, by our administrators, by our mayor, by our commissioners."

There's no timeline yet but city staff says this is not something that should wait until after this week.

But for tonight, there's still no plan for Cindy.

In the meanwhile she says, it's not about her begging for money or help, it's about a long-term resolution for all who need it.

"I just want people to look at this and pay attention." She says, "so if it comes again next year, the people who have already been established in their hotel or motels should not have to be kicked out."

Friday, March 30, 2018
News 12 @ 6 O'clock / NBC 26 at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Outrage, and a cry for change after a News 12 investigation. Our cameras were rolling when a local motel forced families onto the street to make room for all of the visitors arriving in Augusta.

The mayor, commissioners, and the fire chief made calls to try and get these families some help. The problem is many of the directors of the local non-profits are already out of town, and shelters are already full.

A lot can happen in 24 hours. Right now, Victoria Elmore's daughters and grandbabies are safe.

"That had to be a little bit scary," News 12's Liz Owens asked Victoria Elmore.

"It was but you got to do what you got to do," Elmore said.

A stranger, well some may say an angel, saw them sleeping in their car late last night.

It was around two in the morning when the woman found them and brought them into her home.

"She told us we could sleep in here," she tells Owens.

We were there yesterday when motel management forced the family out of their room. Management here ordered all long-term residents to leave. This isn't the first motel kick out families to make room for golf fans. It's also not the first time.

"Why is there not a plan why are we going through this again this year?" Liz Owens asked Commissioner Sean Frantom.

"I heard about it a little last year. It wasn't to this significance. I think your story was eye-opening for many people," Commissioner Frantom replied.

Commissioner Sean Frantom began making calls this morning. He wants a long-term plan in place to help motel families during the week of the tournament.

"We have got to have all these non-profits come together and say how many have you turned away how many have you turned away," the commissioner said.

Right now, shelters are full.

The Marion Barnes Resource Center for the homeless is essentially a one-stop shop. People can come here to be hooked up with local shelters, food banks, even transportation. A caseworker inside says they started getting the calls from families being booted out of motels. This week she says they ran out resources and now they're turning people away.

"If we are seeing we are turning away all these families. I’ve heard multiple families staying in cars we just can't have that as a city," Frantom said.

As for Elmore and her family, she's thankful for a place to stay tonight but is worried about the week to come.

"I'm trying not to think about Monday," she tells Liz Owens. "Yes because it makes me upset."

The kind lady is allowing them to sleep on her floor through Sunday. On Monday, they will go back to sleeping in the car.

"You got good people out there, there are good people in the world," she said.

All she can do is focus on the good, and today they're good.

City leaders want a long-term plan to handle these families next year.

Commissioner Sean Frantom made calls. We made calls too. But it's Good Friday and people are out town. It's a tough answer, but right now there isn't an answer.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Golf fans are beginning to trickle into town while many of us pack to leave. But, for some families living here, it is not a choice to leave the place they call home. It's certainly not a vacation. Signs to vacate go up on motel doors around the same time the city put puts up the golf traffic signs. On Your Side investigates how Augusta's biggest event of the year forces families onto the streets.

"I'm trying my best to make sure you and your kids aren't on the street," James Pauley says to the woman on the phone. "How many days are they giving you? Up until Thursday?" James Pauley began answering panicked calls from his church members this week. "She called me because she has nowhere else to turn," he said.

The lady on the phone lives in a motel on Washington Road. She is too scared to show her face but invites us into her room.

Liz Owens: "You have how many children in here?"
Grandmother "Three."
Liz Owens: "Three boys and your daughter. Where are you going to go?"
Grandmother "I don't know yet we don't know."

Her twin six-year-old grandsons and eight-year-old grandson, along with her daughter, live here.

Liz: "What's your biggest fear?"

Grandmother: "Not being able to find a place for them to stay having kids with no place for them to stay."

She isn't alone. Victoria Elmore's time ran out this afternoon.

Victoria Elmore: "the money we had to pay again they said they wouldn't accept it. They said we had to get out for Masters."

Liz Owens: "You had one week from when you found out you had to be out for the tournament?"

Victoria Elmore: "It wasn't even a week."

Liz Owens: "Where are you going from here?"

Victoria Elmore: "We have nowhere to go we are sleeping in the car."
Liz Owens: "I see some babies. How many do you have?"

Victoria Elmore: "I have two grandbabies."

We go to more motels. We see more people like her. We look past the glitz and glamour along Washington Road which blinds many to the problem.

"It's one of those things where it is out of sight out of mind you never really think about what you don't touch," Shawn Edwards said. As the deputy director of Housing and Development, he thinks about it a lot. He knows some of Augusta's poorest become homeless every April.

"We know as every tourism town knows that there is a time of year where rates are going to go up on hotels and people residing there are not going to have a place to stay. We have to decide whether we are going to help them or let them fend for themselves for that week," Edwards said.

Liz Owens: "Where do they go?"
Shawn Edwards: "Some are lucky. We do have a network of resources in place but the reality is we got gaps."

Big gaps. There is not a day shelter in Augusta. There are not enough spaces in the shelters that are here.

"We are seeing a great increase in families seeking shelter and that is a very grave concern," Capt. Phillip Canning with the Salvation Army said.
There is a 20% increase in the number of people staying here during the tournament.

Many are families. The Salvation Army is the only shelter in Augusta that can accept more than one or two families at a time.

"It's about the money and I don't think money should be the option over the people we claim to look out for," Pauley said. Hotel rate increases during the tournament is nothing new. It keeps the smaller motels in business throughout the rest of the year.

Liz Owens: "You want economic growth. You want the tourism. Yet, we have our people who live here that are being displaced."

Shawn Edwards: "That is part of the mission of the city to see our advancement and growth.You're absolutely correct so you don't want those sales dollars not coming to the community. But, do you need that safety net for those persons who live and reside here? Yes."

There isn't safety net to catch the families we met. "Until the first. until we get our check, we are not going to find a house right then that day," the grandmother said.

"I told them it was wrong how they kick people out like that when they have no place to go," Victoria Elmore said. "But, then they want us to come back a week later?"

Shawn Edwards:"Our community partners need to sit down and make sure there is a degree of understanding how severe the issue is to go forward."

Liz Owens: "How severe is it?"

Shawn Edwards: "I think it's severe enough that it was necessary for us to talk today."