SOUTHERN INDIANA — A little over a month ago, a young family from Norfolk, Va., moved to Southern Indiana for a fresh start.
The father, Allen — whose last name is being withheld for his family’s privacy — had dreams of building a new life for his wife and five children. Greater Louisville seemed like a good choice for him, because it would allow him to be closer to a young son who already lived in the area.
Allen had a five-year plan to launch a small business here. He knew there would be a tough road ahead, but the situation locally and across the globe changed entirely in a matter of days.
The rise of the coronavirus pandemic made that path forward even more treacherous. Now, Allen finds himself in a situation where his family of seven could be evicted from the extended stay hotel they’ve called home since their arrival.
“We knew we would have a slow start, but we didn’t anticipate the virus getting as bad as it did so fast,” Allen said. “We put everything on hold as far as applications for housing go, and we don’t have transportation, so we walk everywhere. We’ve been staying here day-to-day. What we can afford a week, we pay a week.”
Allen’s wife recently started working at Kroger. Allen also had a new job lined up at a local warehouse, but the emergency situation caused by the pandemic led to a freeze on all new hires until the outbreak subsides.
Up until now, Allen has negotiated with motel management on rates. With no fresh cash flow coming into the family yet, he is down to his last $100.
He expects his family to be pushed out of their room this week.
“I don’t have any back-up plans,” Allen said. “We don’t know anybody here. We don’t have any relatives or friends here. My son’s mother and I communicate as far as my son is concerned, but we’re not on terms where I would reach out for help. It would be too much of a burden on her if we could. She’s a single mother herself.”
Allen’s story is one that’s becoming all too common in Southern Indiana, according to local homeless advocates. Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb recently put a temporary hold on evictions across the state.
Non-permanent residents, like those living in hotels, were not included in the protections, though.
“This is actually widespread all across Indiana and Kentucky,” said Leslie Townsend Cronin, executive director of the Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana. “This is kind of a loophole that hotel owners have identified. We’re seeing quite a few people coming to our agency that are requesting rental assistance that have been laid off.”
Many of the people finding themselves in this position, Townsend Cronin said, were already living paycheck-to-paycheck. Social distancing and self-quarantine advisories issued by local governments have seen employers shut their doors and layoff workers in recent weeks.
Though the paychecks have disappeared, the bills have not. This has led to a crisis for families across the state.
While those renting apartments or homes now have protections, those in temporary situations do not. Townsend Cronin is concerned about those families being put at-risk, since the entirety of Indiana is now under a stay-at-home order.
She worries about families not only risking exposure to the virus, but potentially getting put in dangerous situations at homeless camps.
Jim Moon, executive director at Catalyst Rescue Mission, said he foresees a situation arising where shelters fill up quickly, leaving dozens of families with nowhere to turn.
“There’s going to be a mass exodus of people out of the hotels or motels,” he said. “Someone needs to get the governor to include in the executive order that if a person has lived in the hotel or motel for more than a month, they can’t get evicted. Otherwise, they’re going to overrun the shelters. We’ve already seen hundreds come by.”
Catalyst is the only shelter in a 14-county region. At some point, Moon said it will no longer be able to take anymore new residents.
Each time somebody new comes in, the chance for contagions to spread is increased. Come Friday, he expects more people to suddenly find themselves homeless, as they would have used their last paycheck since the shutdown to pay for this week’s stay.
While a sweeping move at the state-level — in other words Holcomb amending the executive order to include protections for long-term hotel tenants — is the optimal outcome, local advocates are hoping for a more immediate solution. That’s why the Homeless Coalition has filed for a temporary injunction on behalf of Allen’s family to prevent the hotels from evicting people during the emergency.
All the paperwork has been completed, and many discussions with state officials have taken place, but Moon said that the judges’ signatures are needed to complete the process.
“I’m confident that the judges in our community will do the right thing in relation to the injunction,” he said.
Allen isn’t letting the situation take away his hope. He is still focusing on the well-being of his family and finding ways to get through this transition.
Moving forward, he will continue to stay positive and look toward the future.
“I even told [advocates] that once we get back on our feet, we want to give back,” Allen said. “What they’re doing is what I want to do for other families like mine.”
The News and Tribune reached out to several extended stay hotels in the area, but none agreed to offer comment for this story.