Families who live in Franklin hotels to be displaced by eclipse

While tens of thousands pour into Johnson County to enjoy the eclipse, some families are left wondering where they are going to stay over the weekend.

Sabrina Hamilton has been living at Quality Inn in Franklin since October and is worried she may end up sleeping in her car again if she doesn’t find a place to stay soon. It’s been nearly two years since she was in a head-on collision with a semi-truck that has left her with lasting health issues.

Most of Hamilton’s family live nearly 2,000 miles away in Oregon. The family that she does have here — her daughter and grandchildren — she cannot live with. She has been diligently searching for a place to rent since last October, but her Social Security Insurance, or SSI, falls short of most income requirements to rent in Johnson County, she said.

“The places that do have a place, they want three times the amount of rent to income,” Hamilton said. “Well, I don’t have that.”

No Place to Call Home, a program through United Way, estimates typical move-in costs in Johnson County can be $2,100 or more including first month’s rent, deposits and last month’s rent. With the average monthly price of hotels around $1,500 to $1,800, it can be hard for people to both save for a place to rent and have a roof over their heads in the meantime, said Lydia Wales, Franklin Union Needham Township trustee.

Hamilton wasn’t aware she wasn’t going to have a place to stay over the eclipse weekend until about four weeks ago when Wales began visiting area hotels to come up with a plan. Now, Hamilton plans to spend Thursday packing her things in a U-Haul to move her things out of the room and into her daughter’s storage shed, she said.

“So for those three days, I would have to be back in my car again,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton worries how she will be able to sleep in her car while in recovery from a recent surgery. The situation has left her sad and frustrated, she said.

“This ain’t home,” Hamilton said. “I know home is where the heart is, but my heart ain’t even here ‘cuz my grandkids can’t be here all the time. That really sucks.”


Meanwhile, Wales said she has worried over finding a place for people living in hotels to stay during the eclipse. Most hotels in Franklin have been booked since last year and those living out of hotels are only worried about making it through each day, Wales said.

“People in this situation, they don’t think ‘OK, Oh! The eclipse is coming. Yay.’ They’re still worried about ‘How am I going to pay for tonight? Or they’re working, ‘How am I going to pay for next week?’ A roof over their head is the immediate concern. They’re not looking in the future. That’s just not a high priority for them because they live day by day.”

Wales was willing to do whatever it took to find a place for people to stay.

“I was gonna let people stay in my backyard in tents because they would have nowhere to go and letting them stay on the street is not a very good response on so many different levels,” she said.

After dozens of calls and sleepless nights, Wales finally found a place for people to stay. Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin will house families in need from 5 p.m. Sunday to 10 a.m. Tuesday, Wales said. Existing hotel guests who meet requirements outlined by the trustees office have to apply before the deadline of 4 p.m. Thursday.

Wales and her staff members spent the day Tuesday visiting hotels across Johnson County to deliver the important information on how to stay at the church over the eclipse weekend. Hotel managers and staff will help distribute the information to those who need it, she said.

Other organizations such as Turning Point, United Way, Firefly and Heaven Earth Church are offering their assistance by providing cots, blankets, pillows and more.

Towels and blankets have been washed and are ready for the weekend. Security has also been hired and will patrol the church parking lot over the three-day period, Wales said.

She estimates about 15 to 20 families in Franklin have lived in a hotel for months, she said.

Wales has kept busy proactively warning families living in hotels to make plans. Up until the end of February, Wales had no idea what was going to happen with the families. She still isn’t sure of the number of families who will need assistance, but will have a better idea as the day approaches, she said.

“A lot of them are like, ‘No I lived there for a year, I’ll be fine.’ And I’m like, you don’t understand. Your room’s already booked, it’s been booked for a year,” she said.

The trustee’s office is delivering totes and boxes to put their belongings in and will store them at the church and trustees office. Wales plans to use the township’s van to transport families and their belongings from the hotels to the church, she said.

Hotels that house families on a long-term basis are doing everything they can to keep families in their rooms over the busy weekend. At Quality Inn, staff are monitoring cancellations on a 24 hour basis and calling people who have made reservations to make sure their plans haven’t changed. As soon as a hotel booking is canceled, staff are reserving the room for one of the eight families that are in need of a place to stay, they said. So far, three rooms have become available, while five more are still needed, said Tracey Higgins, guest service agent.

One small setback for those experiencing homelessness can put them back for another few months, Wales said. Many experiencing homelessness are worried about where they’re going to eat and where they’re going to sleep. Wales worries that trying to find temporary housing for the eclipse will be another obstacle for families to jump through.

“This is going to hit them like a ton of bricks,” Wales said.

Above all, Wales hopes this gives families a chance to enjoy the eclipse instead of being on the street.