Hotels

Southern Comfort: Residents move to new hotels in Charlotte

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Kymber Means looks through water stained curtains in her room at the Southern Comfort Inn on Monday, June 27, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Means, along with other residents of the hotel, must move out due to the hotel’s closure. Several residents live in the hotel in squalid conditions, including signs of mold, insect infestations, and water-damaged curtains and carpets.

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Brian Falls drags a trash bag over his shoulder at the Southern Comfort Inn and holds two more in his other hand. His gray hair is tied back with a slouched baseball cap on top of his head. Leaning over, he pauses.

Falls, 59, has been living in horrific living conditions at the West Charlotte Inn for two years. Before that, he was homeless. Now he has to move. Southern Comfort Inn closes.

The extended-stay hotel on Tuckaseegee Road has reported its impending closure to the city in May. Its residents lived in rooms infested with bed bugs, cockroaches and mold, fallen ceilings and unusable toilets and sinks, among other maintenance issues, The Charlotte Observer reported in early June. The property manager told city officials that the inn could not pay bills or make repairs because many residents were behind on rent.

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Sasha Vernon stands outside the room she shares with her friend, Brian Falls, at the Southern Comfort Inn Monday, June 27, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Vernon tries to help Falls find an affordable apartment instead of a room at another hotel, which would likely be a temporary solution. Melissa Melvin Rodriguez [email protected]

“My bedroom is so dirty,” Falls said. “Old cobwebs, everything. Falling sink. Bedbugs. Mold and everything in my room.

Residents rushed to find new accommodation before the Thursday June 30 deadline. The United Way of Central Carolinas helped most Southern Comfort residents find housing.

The original plan for Falls was to move to any hotel he wanted. This plan fell through. Now he will go to the one he didn’t choose, four days later than planned.

“I moved in on the 25th, and now I have to go to another motel,” Falls told the Observer on Wednesday.

The emptiness was palpable at the inn on Wednesday. The remaining residents pushed their belongings into car trunks and vans before heading to other Charlotte hotels where many of them will stay for the next 90 days.

Falls’ new hotel room is cleaner than the one at the hostel, but he’d chosen one with a kitchenette. He won’t have that now.

“Bad luck,” he mutters, hobbling down the stairs.

Her friend, Sasha Vernon, is upstairs in the bedroom they share. She’s been sleeping on her couch for three months. She went back and forth between her home in Gastonia and the room in Falls for about a year to help her friend with his health issues and disabilities. Right now, she’s trying to find him a more permanent place to live – one with a kitchen.

“He wants the kitchenette so he can cook,” she said. “Do you feel me? So he can cook!

A sudden change of plans

Downstairs, Kymber-Leigh Means stands outside her bedroom next to eight bags full of her belongings. Four of the bags bear the Food Lion logo. He will miss the easy access to the grocery store: there is a bus stop right in front of the Southern Comfort.

Like Falls, Means was originally supposed to move into a hotel, but found out last week that the plan had changed.

“‘We don’t want your kind,'” the original hotel concierge muttered over the phone, Means said.

“There was then a lot there,” Means said. “I was, I was so excited. I was going to take maybe a week to settle in. I hadn’t filled out (the applications) because I didn’t want to take the plunge just in case, and in case past.”

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A resident’s packed belongings sit outside his room near the sidewalk at the Southern Comfort Inn Wednesday, June 29, 2022, as all remaining guests move in and move out. The property, facing fines for persistent and unresolved poor living conditions and unpaid rent, was forced to close. Arthur H. Trickett-Wile [email protected]

His new room will not have a kitchenette with fridge, freezer and microwave. It will just offer a small fridge.

“There are also no grocery stores nearby,” she said. “So even if you wanted to splurge and take a cab to the Food Lion, all you can do is buy dry goods and things like that. We’re going to be very limited and anything that requires a fridge and freezer is out of the question.

90 days, so what?

Back in Falls’ room, Vernon jumps off the couch and retrieves a stack of papers from a drawer under the TV. She spreads apartment brochures, rental applications and documents from non-profit organizations along the couch. She is holding a brochure for a resort she visited that day.

“You know, that’s what I do,” Vernon said.

Vernon says she worries about Falls and all the residents of Southern Comfort. It’s nice that a lot of them have other motels to go to, but after the three months most will have to pay weekly rent that can be as high as $1,200 to $1,600 per month.

The folks at Southern Comfort, she said, “don’t have that kind of money.”

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A resident walks along a sidewalk at the Southern Comfort Inn in Charlotte, North Carolina, Thursday, June 2, 2022. The Southern Comfort Inn is closing in late June, forcing approximately 80 households. Alex Slitz [email protected]

Means, exhausted from the move, slept 11 hours on her first night in her new accommodation.

Despite its downsides, the new hotel is cleaner and the front desk staff are “really lovely,” she says. The free continental breakfast is also a treat. There are even breakfast sandwiches.

Over the next three months, Means will meet regularly with a staff member from the Family Preservation Services Community Resource Team to help plan for the future. Still, Means worries about what’s next.

“You put me in a new hotel for 90 days,” Means says. “You realize it puts me back on the street in October and November.

“If you are going to kick me out, can you kick me out now for 90 days, can I get the hotel in October instead?”

This story was originally published July 1, 2022 1:34 p.m.

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Charlotte Kramon is a subway news intern for the Charlotte Observer. She covers local politics at the 9th Street Journal and is a rising junior at Duke University.