KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Summit Towers Apartments residents are looking at another night out of their home after a small fire led to water damage in the elevators.
Residents have been under a mandatory evacuation since Tuesday evening. At least a hundred residents were transported to the Jacob Building, where the Red Cross set up a temporary shelter.
Summit Towers is located along Locust Street in the Old City and is described on its website as “an apartment community for those 62 and better, handicapped, or disabled.” All residents living there have a reason as to why they first came to Summit Towers.
For Paul Walker, it was because he didn’t have a home. “I was homeless…The social worker set me up in Summit Towers because I was living in the Steps House.”
Walker has been living at Summit Towers for eight years. He said despite whatever issues may happen at the building, it is his home.
Mary Strickland has been living at Summit Towers for three years. She first started living at the apartment building because she became disabled and had to rely on disability payments for income.
“When I got disabled and had to quit working, you never know how fast your money is gone, and then you’ve got to start from the bottom and work your way up. You’ve got to find assistance and somebody to direct you to get the help that you need,” Strickland said.
She said it can happen to anyone. They don’t have to be elderly.
John Campbell learned that. He’s 38 years old, living in Summit Towers for the last six months. He was homeless before that. Campbell said he used to make a decent living.
“I went to school in my mid-20s to be a wind turbine technician, like the construction end of it and traveling a little bit and being a wind tech. Um, I’ve done electrical work. I did a lot of construction,” Campbell said.
At one point, Campbell owned his own business. Campbell said he knew something was off but didn’t realize the extent of the mental health issues he was suffering from.
“I just got to a point that I wasn’t functioning in a lot of ways,” Campbell said.
He said he suffers from PTSD and other mental health struggles. On top of that, he had several serious health scares, such as a stroke. He said he knew he had a bright future, but then he had to deal with the problems he faced. After all that, he eventually became homeless.
“I lost everything I owned. I knew some undeveloped land in a surrounding county and I bought a cheap tent and stayed out in the woods for three months,” Campbell said.
He also stayed at KARM and the Salvation Army. Campbell found a psychologist who helped him learn about what he’s been dealing with. He didn’t have a social worker to help him find housing, but he was able to find an application for the housing authority.
Three months later he was placed at Summit Towers.
“Where would I be (if not at Summit Towers)? I don’t know,” Campbell said.
All three residents said they couldn’t really complain about the accommodations at the Red Cross shelter, except they wish it was a little more handicap-friendly.
“They’ve been very helpful and very kind, but the little cots are so uncomfortable for us people who are disabled to get up off out of and just, you know, little stuff. It’s better than the floor,” Strickland said.
“We have cots, we have food. There’s amenities here. I’ve been homeless and I’ve been hungry. This ain’t that bad,” Campbell said.
Some residents were given hotel vouchers through the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee. Misty Goodwin, with the CAC, said they have limited resources so they could only offer so many vouchers. They gave them to people they knew were sleeping in their cars because they didn’t feel safe in the Jacob Building.
The Knoxville Fire Department said several groups, including property management, the Red Cross, KAT and animal control needed to get together to figure out how residents will be moved back in once the elevators are functioning again.
KFD officials said the timeline of the elevator repairs are still unclear, but hope at least one is fixed by Friday evening.