It won't be today, but it might be next week.
That was the line offered by Red Cross officials to nearly 30 volunteer agency representatives gathered Friday, curious to know when more than 240 displaced residents of Patten Towers may be able to return to their downtown home.
Efforts to repair the building by its owner, PK Management, are ongoing. If the 100-year-old facility can clear various inspections, residents could return approximately one month after they were forced to suddenly evacuate the Section 8 housing facility because of a basement electrical fire.
Joyce Walker, director of communications for PK Management, said the South Carolina-based company was "in the process of completing" requirements put in place for the building to be reopened. Although Walker would not give a definite target date, she said crews were "working day and night" to repair the building, "and then some."
"We're hoping to be back as soon as possible," she said. "We're looking forward to residents coming back to their homes, as I'm sure they are. It's been a long road. "
Hotel stays for about half the displaced residents, the majority of whom are low-income, elderly or disabled, have been extended. Many others have found shelter with family or friends since the fire, which occurred May 28.
Outreach by local social service agencies continues. At Friday's meeting, the group discussed plans for ensuring that the eventual move back into Patten Towers goes smoothly.
Kimberly George, director of marketing and development for the Salvation Army, said Angel Food Ministries would be providing residents with a 30-day supply of food upon their return. Tenants will also receive "welcome home" kits, including essential items that may have been lost during sweeps of the building by crews after the fire.
Several attendees at the meeting expressed concerns regarding reports that PK Management officials had been going door to door in recent days, asking residents to sign various forms and paperwork in order for them to transition back. Emily O'Donnell, an attorney with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, said only one document was required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for residents to re-enter the Section 8 facility, adding that many tenants were illiterate and had expressed confusion.
"To knock on someone's door with stacks of paper they couldn't read, of course it put them in a panic situation," O'Donnell said. "That's just asking for chaos."
When asked about the papers, Walker would not comment on the specific kinds of forms residents had been asked to sign. Walker said that the documents had been put before residents because PK Management officials did not know only one form was required by HUD for the transition.
"We were trying to keep everything together," she said. "We got a clear answer, and now, they only have to fill one form."
Greg Waite, CEO of the Chattanooga Area Red Cross, said the form was required by HUD because tenants of Patten Towers had been technically removed from the agency's system upon their evacuation from the building. The document for re-entry, which requires signatures from both the tenant and landlord, confirms that the tenant was already a resident of Patten Towers and already approved within the HUD Section 8 housing voucher system.
Representatives for agencies attending the meeting did not set a date for a future gathering—the first time a follow-up meeting had not been scheduled. John Hitchens, director of emergency services for the Red Cross, said the group would "play it by ear" and that he hoped the pattern of weekly meetings would soon dissipate as issues began to be resolved.
Hitchens applauded the agencies gathered in the room and said he'd like to encourage regular meetings in the future.
"This group has been tremendous, absolutely phenomenal," he said. "From the beginning, this has been a very big collaborative effort, all of you working together to solve problems. We're hoping that we can continue to bring a group like this back together maybe once or twice a year."