Residents of the Downtown Motel packed their belongings and vacated their rooms Thursday afternoon.
A Minnesota Department of Health cease and desist order issued Tuesday mandated the motel not function for lodging, meaning the guests be out of their rooms by 2 p.m. Thursday.
But residents who a day earlier had worried they'd be homeless received a helping hand Thursday in the form of a free meal, free storage for their belongings, people to help them pack and move and vouchers for hotel rooms.
Stepping up to assist Downtown Motel residents were employees of the Crow Wing County health and social services departments, Oak Street Chapel and the Salvation Army.
Oak Street Chapel Pastor Chip Avelsgaard marked a Downtown Motel resident's belongings Thursday several minutes before the motel in downtown Brainerd was closed by the Minnesota Department of Health until further notice. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Our main goal today is basically to find suitable living for them for the next couple weeks so that they can get back on their feet and go into permanent housing for themselves," said Brainerd Salvation Army Capt. Brian Reed. "We're telling them we're not going to give up on them, that we're committed to helping these people toward their needs."
Oak Street Chapel Pastor Chip Avelsgaard rounded up volunteers to help move the Downtown Motel residents.
He said his church was started to help those it could whenever it could.
"It's not about whether they're members or not," Avelsgaard said. "We're all brothers and sisters. We all had to have help in the past and probably will need help again in the future. When we hear that somebody needs help like this, we'll do whatever we can to get it done."
The help was appreciated by the residents.
"I am happy," said Sheryl Engen, who with her 16-year-old daughter, Joyce, had lived at the motel for more than a year. "It's exactly what I hoped for and if (the owners) re-open I am not coming back. I can say goodbye to this place."
Engen said her voucher is good until May 15 and she hoped to find a permanent apartment for her family.
Mary Adams, who'd moved into the motel this month, said she was pleased with the help to find another place to stay. She also said she was upset with the motel owners for not addressing the problems at the motel or taking care of the residents.
"But I'm definitely, definitely glad I can get out and stay somewhere else," Adams said.
Salvation Army Capt. Brian Reed helped Downtown Motel residents Sheila Schultes and Tina Smith load their belongings into a pickup Thursday afternoon in Brainerd. Residents, forced to move out of the motel, received free storage and hotel stays from the Salvation Army. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
» Purchase reprints of this photo.
In March, the health department found 34 violations of the state's Lodging Establishment Code. The violations included failing to seal crevices and openings in buildings to prevent insect, vermin and rodent entry; failing to maintain a working electrical system; failing to properly vent gas and water heaters; and failing to dispose of trash and garbage.
Several notices were sent to the owners of the motel, Julian Jayasuriya and Denis Villella, but the violations were never corrected, the health department reported. For that reason the cease and desist ordered was issued.
In a hearing Thursday morning in Crow Wing County District Court, the health department sought a temporary restraining order against Jayasuriya and Villella, doing business as DBM II Partnership LLC, to stop them from operating Downtown Motel as a lodging establishment until the violations were corrected.
Crow Wing County Judge Richard Zimmerman took the motion for a temporary restraining order under advisement. He has 90 days to make a ruling.
On Thursday afternoon, it didn't matter to residents whether the violations at Downtown Motel would be fixed or if the motel would be allowed to re-open. All that mattered, said Joyce Mueller, Crow Wing County public health nurse manager, was that all 20 or so residents had somewhere to go.
"That was our biggest goal, to make sure we had a place for everybody," Mueller said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.