08/12/2022

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Southern Comfort: Residents move to new hotels in Charlotte

Southern Comfort: Residents move to new hotels in Charlotte

Kymber Means peers through water stained curtains in her room at the Southern Comfort Inn on Monday, June 27, 2022 in Charlotte, NC. Means, along with other residents at the hotel, is being made to move due to the hotel closing. Several residents have been living in the hotel in squalid conditions including signs of mold, bug infestations and water damaged curtains and carpets.

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

Falls, 59, has lived in gruesome living conditions at the west Charlotte inn for two years. Before that, he was homeless. Now, he’s being forced to move. Southern Comfort Inn is closing.

The long-term-stay hotel on Tuckaseegee Road reported its impending closure to the city in May. Its residents had been living in rooms infested with bedbugs, roaches, and mold, fallen ceilings, and unusable toilets and sinks, among other maintenance problems, The Charlotte Observer reported in early June. The property manager told city officials the inn couldn’t pay its 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 Southern Comfort Inn on Monday, June 27, 2022 in Charlotte, NC. Vernon is trying 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 room’s so nasty,” Falls said. “Old cobwebs, everything. Sink falling down. Bedbugs. Mold and everything in my room.”

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

The original plan for Falls called for moving to a hotel he wanted. That plan fell through. Now, he’ll go to one he did not choose, four days later than he planned.

“I had move-in on the 25th, and now I gotta go to a different motel,” Falls told the Observer on Wednesday.

The emptiness was palpable at the inn Wednesday. The remaining residents shoved their belongings into car trunks and pickup trucks 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 inn, but he had selected one with a kitchenette. He won’t have that now.

“There is no luck,” he mutters as he hobbles up the stairs.

His friend, Sasha Vernon, is upstairs in the room they share. She has slept on his couch for the past three months. She’s gone back and forth between her home in Gastonia and Falls’ room for about a year helping her friend with his health issues and disabilities. Right now, she is trying to find him a more permanent place to live — one with a kitchen.

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

A sudden change of plans

Downstairs, Kymber-Leigh Means stands outside her room next to eight bags filled with her belongings. Four of the bags have the Food Lion logo. She’ll miss the easy access to the grocery store — there is a bus stop right in front of Southern Comfort.

Like Falls, Means originally was to move to one hotel but found out last week that plan had changed.

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

“There was so much around there,” Means said. “I was, I was so excited. I was gonna take maybe a week to settle in. I hadn’t put (the applications) all through because I didn’t want to jump the gun in case, and in case happened.”

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

Her new room won’t have a kitchenette with a refrigerator, freezer, and microwave. It will offer just a small fridge.

“There are no grocery stores nearby either,” she said. “So even if you wanted to splurge and take a taxi 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 a freezer is out of the question.

90 days, then what?

Back in Falls’ room, Vernon springs from the couch and retrieves a stack of papers from a drawer underneath the television. She spreads the apartment brochures, rental applications and paperwork from nonprofits out along the couch. She holds up a brochure for a complex she visited that day.

“You know, this is what I do,” Vernon said.

Vernon says she worries about Falls and all the Southern Comfort residents. It’s good that many of them have other motels to go to, but after the three months, most will have to pay weekly rent that could amount to $1,200-$1,600 per month.

People at Southern Comfort, she said, “don’t have that type of money.”

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A resident walks along a sidewalk at the Southern Comfort Inn in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, June 2, 2022. The Southern Comfort Inn is closing at the end of June forcing out roughly 80 households. Alex Slitz [email protected]

Means, exhausted from moving, slept 11 hours during her first night at her new place.

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

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

“Y’all put me in a new hotel for 90 days,” Means says. “You realize that puts me back on the streets in October and November.

“If you’re gonna put me on the streets can you just put me on the streets now for 90 days and then can I get the hotel in October instead?”

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

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