New Richmond leaders prepare as Lowrey Hotel enters final days
NEW RICHMOND — Garbage bags filled with tenants' belongings were being lugged out of the Lowrey Hotel this week while community leaders met to discuss housing options for the remaining few who called the hardscrabble inn their home.
Such were the final days of the New Richmond hotel, which closes midnight Friday, Aug. 31, the result of its landlord opting against renewing its lease. That revelation, announced in an April letter from property owner Jim Beebe's lawyer to Lowrey owner Stacy Wright, set into motion a series of events, not the least of which has meant finding new homes for the approximately 50 people who lived at the hotel
That process has been complicated by the backgrounds the residents brought to the Lowrey, which didn't turn away sex offenders, convicted criminals or addicts in search of a cheap place to stay.
The process is nearly complete, though about 20 people remained there as of Monday, Aug. 27. What to do with potential holdovers — as many as 14 residents didn't have new living arrangements as of last week, Wright reported — remained a central question as the deadline neared.
One thing that won't happen, New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik said, will be officers rousting tenants from their rooms at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. While he and his staff are keenly aware of the situation at the hotel, he and other city officials said they would abide the same eviction process they would for any other residence.
Wright, who is familiar with the eviction process, said that would likely take at least two weeks to complete through the courts.
Yehlik said much of that process hinges on what Beebe wants to do.
Asked Monday how he intends to proceed, Beebe — recovering from a medical procedure — said he wasn't sure. He said the recovery process has kept him from being more involved in what's happening at the Lowrey.
Still, he said there will be no last-minute lease extension and that he expects the eviction process to take effect if holdovers remain.
"We wanted to avoid something like this," Beebe said. "As of the first of September, they will be squatters."
Whether utilities remain on after Friday remained an open question, though Noah Wiedenfeld, New Richmond's management analyst, said at an Aug. 24 community meeting that there had been no request from the property owner to turn them off. He said that process "would take time" once a request is made.
Community leaders, meanwhile, kept the focus on resources being offered to tenants.
Duana Bremer, social services director at the Salvation Army Grace Place — New Richmond's homeless shelter — said emergency housing is available there and that her facility won't turn away Lowrey residents.
"We have been diligently calling them," she said. "There has been attempted outreach to every single person that resides there."
Glenwood City-based WestCentral Wisconsin Community Action Agency, known as West Cap, has been among organizations working closely with Lowrey residents. West Cap provides access to tenant-based rental assistance and funding for first-month rent requirements, among other things.
In addition to those advocates, police officers and a St. Croix County Sheriff's Office chaplain have all visited the hotel in hopes of spreading the word about temporary housing resources.
Yehlik said his officers didn't go there to intimidate. Quite the opposite, he said — some of the residents there had established a rapport with officers.
"I don't think there's been a lack of effort," Yehlik said.
But he and Bremer pointed out one big problem: The outreach only works if people open their doors, pick up the phone or return messages.
"They have to advocate for themselves, as well," the chief said.
That's easier said than done, Wright argued.
"Most of these people are incapable of helping themselves or even knowing where to begin," she said.
Tent option rebuffed
Wright said there is no one reason why people haven't yet left the Lowrey for other options, including the homeless shelter. It's a mix of factors, which she said includes one powerful force: pride.
Bremer said she's well acquainted with the feeling many people bring to Grace Place.
"They are demoralized," she said. "They feel awful about their predicament."
Yehlik and other community leaders voiced opposition to an alternative floated by Wright — that holdovers might erect a "tent city" in New Richmond.
Going to a homeless shelter, while no one's first choice for a living option, still offers more than a tent camp would, Yehlik explained. At Grace Place, people can access office equipment that can expedite rental applications. Bremer said they can also meet with staff who can help access services and programs.
"Living in a tent is not safe, sanitary, suitable housing," Bremer said. "This is America. There should not be one person living on the street."
That goes for sex offenders too, she said. Bremer said Grace Place, which can't accept sex offenders since it houses children, has made arrangements with a Balsam Lake hotel to transport and temporarily accommodate those people.
New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne said the tenting option doesn't make sense to him.
"That's why all these groups are stepping up to help these guys," he said.
Last week the New Richmond Area Community Foundation launched a funding and supply drive for Lowrey tenants. The drive seeks funds, non-perishable food, furniture and toiletries.
The drive, supported by an array of other community organizations, emerged during the series of community meetings held in the run-up to the Lowrey's closure.
Margret Swanson, executive director of the foundation, said the situation fit well with the organization, which lists shelter and hunger among its targeted causes.
"It is a complex issue," she said.
Back at the Lowrey on Monday, Wright battled discouragement while assisting residents who were packing up and leaving. Residents closing up the hotel's front desk tried lifting her spirits with humor.
"It's really heartbreaking," Wright said. "But there's no way in hell I'm going to give up."
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Lowrey tenant drive can drop donations at the New Richmond Civic Center (156 E. First St.), Garce Place (505 W. Eighth St.) or New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce (245 S. Knowles Ave.). Donations are also being accepted at the United Way St. Croix Valley office at 201 Second St. S. in Hudson. Online donations can be made at nracfoundation.com or by mail to the New Richmond Area Community Foundation at PO Box 96, New Richmond WI 54017.