Some displaced residents from Rock Hill’s Executive Inn faced an additional setback just hours after moving out when the manager of the Economy Inn Express told them they couldn’t stay more than one night at the hotel.
In the last week, community agencies have rallied around the 80 or so people living at the Executive Inn who would have been homeless after they were evicted on Friday. The city condemned the building on Oct. 2 for unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Donated funds were used to buy rooms for residents at area hotels like the Economy Inn Express, said Bruce McKagan, a director at Renew Our Community, the main agency spearheading assistance efforts. ROC paid in full for 10 rooms for a week at the Economy Inn Express to buy time to find residents a more permanent housing solution.
A few hours after the residents moved in to their rooms at the Economy Inn Express, McKagan was called to the hotel where the manager, Bill Bagatt, was telling the newly-arrived guests they needed to leave immediately.
“They were very rude,” said Meagen Jones.
She and her husband had been living at the Executive Inn “off and on” for about five months before Friday’s eviction. On Friday night, it seemed they were facing their second big move within a few hours.
“It was like, ‘Here we are again,’ ” said McKagan, who convinced Bagatt to let the displaced residents stay there at least for Friday night.
Residents allege that Bagatt kicked them out because someone at the Executive Inn told him to do so.
When asked, Bagatt said “someone” from the Executive Inn called him and asked him if he took those residents in to his hotel. The person told him the residents would cause damage to his property, he said.
“We don’t allow this kind of people in my business,” he said.
The Economy Inn Express is owned by Sandeelya SC LLC, which Bagatt said is based in California.
On Saturday morning, McKagan and a small band of volunteers had to have all 25 people and their belongings out of their rooms by 11 a.m. The inn fully refunded the cost of the rooms. McKagan drove a van back and forth to ROC Central on Dave Lyle Boulevard, where residents were spending the day as McKagan and others tried to figure out the next step.
McKagan said the toughest part is reassuring the residents that they’re going to find help.
“I’m confident we’ll be just fine,” he said on Saturday in between trips to help residents move and phone calls with other area hotels who were willing to offer rooms to residents.
Carlton Smalls, a social worker with Agape Senior, got a call early Saturday morning about the situation because of his relationship with Gene and Elizabeth Lee, another displaced couple from the Executive Inn. Lee is a veteran and disabled and Agape was able to assist the family with housing, but it won’t be available until Monday, so the Lees need a hotel for the weekend.
“I tried to explain (to the manager) that this senior citizen is disabled and a veteran, and they just need to stay until Monday, but he would not hear me at all,” Smalls said.
The scene as the 25 residents moved out was “chaotic,” Smalls said.
Before they could leave, Jones said management checked every inch of every room for damage.
“We did our best to leave that place cleaner than we found it,” Jones said.
The people who lived in the Executive Inn have a reputation of being dirty and damaging property, she said, but the problems at the inn were because of poor upkeep and maintenance from the owner, Punam Patel, not the residents.
Patel did not return messages left on Saturday.
Bagatt said he wouldn’t let the people from the Executive Inn stay more than a night because they had too many people in the rooms and “we only allow working people.”
McKagan and leaders of other community agencies have verified that the majority of Executive Inn residents are “working people” with full-time or part-time jobs and the ability to pay rent, but not enough income to pay utility or apartment deposits to live somewhere other than a hotel.
Jones said no matter what the circumstances were, they way they were treated by the Economy Inn Express staff was not right.
“I feel like everyone has the right to live some where with dignity,” she said.