CLARKSVILLE — As the final days of America's Best Inn tick away, community support groups are rallying to help its remaining residents.
When the Homeless Prevention Task Force entered the picture July 1 after the motel was sold, 87 adults and 61 children were counted in the 84 occupied units. The motel is set to close July 19.
As of two days ago, Paul Stensrud, director of Exit 0, said the number of units occupied is down to 62.
"We have chipped away at least 50 individuals that said they have a game plan," Stensrud said. "At least we're connecting with services and know where they're at. Some have gone from a hotel to a hotel."
In order to get those yet to leave situated for their next steps, Stensrud organized a resource fair Wednesday, which assisted residents with vital documents, employment and healthcare.
"What we started realizing is that we can send them to an apartment, but how do you get in that apartment when you don't have an ID or a birth certificate?" Stensrud said. "You don't have the proper credentials. That's why we immediately jumped on this here for this type of resource clinic to meet them at their needs. We come here to where we can serve them on their property, because a week from now we don't know where they're going to be."
Assisting the residents with these services is a crucial step forward, Stensrud noted, as many people have difficulties knowing how to attain such documents.
"What it boils down to is folks don't know where to go," Stensrud said. "They don't know where to start. They don't know where the resources are."
Stensrud said one thing he and his team are focused on is children ages 6 and under and their health. Of the 61 children originally accounted for, 40 were actually living at America's Best Inn.
"Out of the 61, many were held by grandparents," Stensrud said. "One family we've helped out is now going back home to their parents. The motel wasn't the right environment for the children. Now that they're in somewhere, that family is connected."
Clarksville Community Schools had a presence at the event to assist in enrollment. A total of 20 children living in the complex were students at Clarksville, but that number should've been higher.
"We also found out today that there were more that were school age students that weren't enrolled anywhere," Erin Walden-Thompson said. "Obviously, since this is within our school district, they should've been in our schools the whole time. We just weren't aware. We're just here making it clear that no matter where they end up, they can still go to Clarksville Community Schools. We do provide out-of-district transportation."
With Clarksville being a relatively small school district, Walden-Thompson said the district felt it was important for school officials to come out and interact with them.
"It just goes back into the culture of our school district," Walden-Thompson said. "Because we're so small — we have just under 1,200 students — we know every single student by name. That's why when we found out this was closing, it was imperative for us to get over here to meet with our students that we know."
According to Stensrud, one of the biggest factors contributing to the crisis is a lack of affordable housing in the area.
"What I'm concerned of is that we're going to have people living out their cars here within Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany," Stensrud said. "That still boils down to affordable housing. That's why we need the state level to come down here with more adequate housing that people can afford."
One of the residents who have been able to find housing thanks to the efforts of people like Stensrud is Brittany Warren. When the motel was sold, Warren was put in a particularly stressful situation. Not only was America's Best Inn her home, but it was her place of employment as well.
"Working here and staying here, you're hit from both sides of now I'm on a deadline," Warren said. "Not only do I have to find a new job, but I have to find a new place to stay. It's just been a struggle all the way around of let's fix both of these problems in a short amount of time."
Warren said without Stensrud, she wouldn't have known what to do. The resources he provide helped point her in the right direction. Now that she has a new home, she said she feels excited.
"I can hardly say it without tearing up," Warren said. "It's like a weight is just gone. I'm not stressed out. I can breathe. I know that there is an answer. Everything's going to be fine."
In order to fully support every resident, Stensrud said it's important to first get them in homes, like Warren. Financial constraints, however, prevent the task force from doing as much as they would like to.
"They're not all looking for a handout," Stensrud said. "They just need a small hand up to get back on track. Think of it like this — get them in housing first, then work on their issues. It works. I know it works, because we've done it a couple times. But we need finances to do so."
Donations are being accepted at Community Action of Southern Indiana. So far, $17,500 has been raised.