UPDATE: Contamination at "Tent City" site forces homeless to fin - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Contamination at "Tent City" site forces homeless to find new place to stay

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CHATTANOOGA -

UPDATE: Pack up and get out, that's the message the city has for people living in Tent City on 11th Street. Last week, the homeless community was told they needed to leave their camp after the city learned the area is contaminated with toxic chemicals.

The Community Kitchen is stepping in to help. But the people we spoke to, said that is not enough.

Charles Harris wasn't always homeless. He had a job for 28 years. All that changed, when he had a stroke.

“No family to take care of me, I just ended up out here,” Harris said.

He said volunteers at the Community Kitchen helped set him up at Tent City. They provided him a tent to sleep in and offered him resources to get back on his feet. But last week, they were the same people who told him he needed to leave.

“I am afraid if I go set up somewhere else, they will come and make me leave from there,” Harris explained.

The mayor's office said that section of 11th Street is toxic. For years it was used as a dump site for hazardous materials.

“Grass is growing, birds are eating off it," Harris added. "You don't see no birds dead or nothing. I don't know.”

To help relocate the 100 people who call Tent City home, the Community Kitchen has agreed to extend their emergency shelter for two weeks to assist with the transition.

“It is scary, it is uncertain. That for them was their home. It was temporary, but it was their home of sorts,” David Costellow, with the Community Kitchen, said.

Doors will open each night at 7 and close at 6 the following morning. It will cost the city $15,000 to keep the shelter open during the extension.

“Our estimated cost is $600-$700 a night," Costellow explained. "The city is helping us with that. Agreed to help with that cost.”

Harris said two weeks isn't enough time to get the help he needs. And with no permanent homeless shelters in the city, he's not sure what to do.

“People are homeless year round," Harris said. "And we're trying to get help, I don't know. It don't make no sense to me.”

Different nonprofit organizations have been in contact with the people affected, to help them find permanent housing. People have until the end of this weekend to move their stuff out.

It is still unclear what will happen to this site, once everything is cleared.

It's downtown on East 11th Street. Now, at least 100 people are scrambling to find a place to live.

Officials say the site has contaminated soil and could cause long-term health problems.

“All we want to do is have a place to stay until we can get back on our feet,” Malcolm Amicarelli said.

“Tent City” has been Malcolm Amicarelli's home for the past year. It wasn't until Monday that he learned it was toxic.

“I knew they dumped stuff here,” Amicarelli said.

“What did they dump? I'm not sure,” Amicarelli added.

In 1916, the city bought the property. Waste was dumped there from several local industries, which led to soil contamination.

The site was deemed unsafe for "permanent residences" by the state. But the city said they just learned about the restrictions.

“When the people that had that knowledge learned that folks were camping there and began to do research to see exactly the conditions of that and we were handed the deed on Friday with the restrictions from it,” homeless program coordinator, Sam Wolfe said.

Now, the city says the goal is to help find permanent housing for people like Amicarelli.

In the meantime, they have two options: utilize shelters like the Chattanooga Community Kitchen or pay hundreds of dollars for a hotel room.

“It's not a one size fits all,” Wolfe said. “It takes working with the individual to figure out what obstacles and barriers exist for them to get them housing.”

As for Amicarelli, he says he's not sure what he's going to do next.

“I guess when it comes to them telling us to leave, I'll find another place to go,” Amicarelli said.

When asked who would be responsible if anyone living at the site has any health issues due to the contamination, the city issued the following statement:

“The City of Chattanooga has to evaluate any claim for damages brought against us on its own merits, and we simply can't comment on hypothetical legal situations. At the moment, our priority is transitioning all of the folks on this land to more stable and secure housing as rapidly and safely as we can, and connecting them with healthcare providers if they are need of care.” – Kerry Hayes, Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor


PREVIOUS UPDATE: A camp for the homeless, here in Chattanooga, is being taken down because the city says it sits on hazardous materials. 

The site is on East 11th Street and 10% of the homeless population lives on the lot.

Officials say the campsite was once used for industrial waste, but city officials say they learned the site was contaminated on Friday. 

Now, officials are looking for a more permanent location for the homeless.

"Right now, we're working with the Housing Authority to see what units they have available as well as the normal way people use to get housing on a day to day basis," homeless program coordinator, Sam Wolfe tells Channel 3. "That looks like subsidized housing for people or a landlord or whatever they want."

The city is paying to reopen the Chattanooga Community Kitchen shelter for two weeks, starting Friday. 

City officials handed out letters to the homeless, listing alternative places to live; but, the price tag is about $200 per week.

Channel 3 is working to learn more.

Stay with the WRCB app for updates to this story.  


PREVIOUS STORY: A camp for homeless people in Tennessee is being dismantled because it sits on a former dumping site for hazardous materials.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports dozens of people have lived in a vacant lot ever since a community kitchen's cold-weather shelter closed and its occupants were given tents.

Officials have determined the campsite, once used as a dump for industrial waste, should contain no permanent residences.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's chief of staff, Stacy Richardson, says the city is paying to reopen the shelter for two weeks. Berke's office is coordinating with various agencies to try to find permanent housing for the homeless.

Homeless program coordinator Sam Wolfe estimates the camp represents about 10 percent of the city's homeless population.

Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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