If this sort of thing happened at the Hyatt or the Marriott, there would be an investigation. There would be cameras; there would be a general outcry.
Records show that the Sunset Inn, Greenville Inn & Suites, and Red Roof Inn each received a service call in response to prostitution. City Councilor Fant and local activists described prostitution as a problem in every motel in the area.
âWhat I’ve seen (among these motels) is a cycle of drug addiction, prostitution, homelessness and incarceration,â said Beth Messick, executive director of Jasmine Road, a center that helps survivors of prostitution. and drug addiction.
“If that sort of thing happened at the Hyatt or the Marriott, there would be an investigation,” Messick said. âThere would be cameras; there would be a general outcry.
The closure of the Economy Inn has awakened many officials and activists about the conditions of motels in Greenville.
Code enforcement officers inspected the motel on January 13 after Fant, who represents the district, urged the sheriff’s office to shut it down due to crime and violence.
Ultimately, the motel was closed due to a litany of code violations including inadequate plumbing, electrical issues, missing sections of drywall and unsanitary conditions, Mihalic said.
âIt was just deplorable,â Smalls said. “When it rained outside, it rained inside.”
Angela Harper, 53, is another who heard a knock on her door that cold January morning.
âThey checked the smoke detectors and then they left,â Harper said. “And then they were like, ‘We’re stopping him. “Everyone must have packed their clothes.”
Harper struggled with drug addiction, she said, and had a low-paying job, and those two things kept her from living in motels like the Economy Inn for a year.
In Harper’s case, leaving the motel helped her progress.
The Greenville Homeless Alliance, a coalition of public and private groups helping the homeless, was ready to help those staying at the motel with a contingency plan. The plan includes instructions on how the Alliance for the Homeless, city and county governments and local organizations can work together to prevent sudden closures leaving people with no where to turn – and to mobilize. when that happens.
Of the 80 people displaced at the Economy Inn, GHA helped 61, moving them to Grace Church for a week, and the organization continued to help some find housing and work. In total, the organization spent approximately $ 50,000 with the help of nonprofits, churches and county officials.
In Grace, Harper met Ma’ta Crawford, director and founder of Community Fresh Start, a GHA partner that helps homeless people. Crawford helped Harper rehabilitate for her drug addiction and find a better paying job with a better schedule.
Now Harper is living in a halfway house after staying at another motel for about a month. She works at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Greenville and said she hasn’t used illegal drugs for months.
She works during the day and can visit her paralyzed 27-year-old son more often. She hopes to move to a house soon to live with him.
âI just got out of the situation for a better place,â Harper said. “I have been blessed.”
Smalls and his brother felt uncomfortable staying at Grace Church at first, he said, thinking it would only be an overnight fix.
âThen the church let us know it was going to pay for at least a week,â Smalls said. “It lightened the shoulders a bit.”
If the conditions are bad, the weekly rates high, and the crime rate high, why are people staying in motels for so long? The short answer is a lack of housing options in Greenville County, housing activists say.
A report from the Homebuilders Association of Greenville shows that given its growth between 2009 and 2018, Greenville should have produced about 11,000 more residential units than it did.
âSometimes (motels) are the only choices people have when we have such a desert of housing in Greenville,â Crawford said.
To study: Greenville has most low-income households in unsubsidized housing in South Carolina
There is also a problem of accommodation capacity, according to Samantha Batko, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute which focuses on homelessness.
âThe other thing is that there are barriers to accessing and entering a homeless program,â Batko said. âSometimes you can’t bring a pet, depending on the policies. You might not be able to get your partner to join you. And then there are restrictions on how many goods you could potentially bring. with you.”
A motel allows you to stay with a partner, sometimes bring a pet, and bring as many goods as you can.
It’s hard to know how many people live in motels, but it’s a “considerable amount,” according to Donald Whitehead of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
More on motels: $ 250,000 grant to help Greenville Housing Fund help families in motels
Alan Byrd, 76, has lived in a motel for 15 years.
University graduate Bob Jones began hitchhiking in the United States and Canada in 1979, preaching Christianity to anyone who wanted to listen.
He did this until he felt a call from God to settle down in 2006, he said. It was then that he moved into the Travelers’ Hostel.
If you walk into his room there, it looks more like an apartment room or a college dorm. It has pictures hanging on the walls, American flags and a clothes rack.
He even has a garden that he maintains outside his room.
Byrd wouldn’t say how much he’s paying to stay at the motel, but says it’s a discounted rate because he’s helping the owner by working the third shift at the front desk.
The Umarwadias who run the motel also live there with their children and have said they consider Byrd to be family. They believe the Travelers’ Inn is a great environment for families and that their children made lifelong friends growing up at the motel.
Niel Umarwadia carries with him a photo of his children and their friends from the motel.
“She’s my daughter,” he said, pointing to the photo. “And the five children. They’re all friends. They all grew up together.”
Byrd sometimes thinks about moving to an apartment, but not for too long.
âThen I think about the whole interview,â Byrd said. “I have nothing to do (at the motel). It’s very convenient.”
The Greenville Homeless Alliance response plan was ultimately successful, said McLarty and Crawford.
GHA doesn’t think this will be the last time the plan will need to be implemented.
âOrganizations need to understand that this is something that happens 365 days a year, instead of just now, when something is doomed,â Crawford said.
Charlotte, North Carolina, and other communities across the country have purchased motels and converted them into permanent affordable housing and transitional housing.
Could this work in Greenville? : Here’s how Charlotte is helping provide affordable housing
The Economy Inn property is now for sale. Its list shows four buildings on 3.4 acres as a “premier redevelopment site near the highway.”
Today, Eric Smalls, who was one of 80 displaced there, still stays in a motel with his brother.
It seems fair, he said.
He might one day look for his own home, but for now, the motel is a constant in his life. He knows he will have a place to shower each day. He knows how much he owes and he doesn’t have to clean up.
âYou know, that stuff is fine with us right now,â Smalls said, âbecause every month the bill is the same.â
Genna Contino covers affordable housing and gentrification for The Greenville News. Contact Genna at [email protected] or on Twitter @GennaContino. Subscribe to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.