James Lott and Parolyn Walker toted boxes, suitcases, cooking utensils -- all their worldly stuff -- the half-mile to the Majestic Lodge and Extended Stay, then trudged back to the Mosley Motel and then repeated the trip.
The Mosley, which closes Friday, had been their home for six months. Lott and Walker live hand-to-mouth, just like their 205 neighbors.
"I'm walking our stuff down. I can't afford a U-Haul," said the 53-year-old Lott, as his wife folded the last blankets and clothing remaining in their now barren room. "I'm just trying to hang on until I can find a job. I get an unemployment check and it's about to run out."
Lott and Walker have had a tough year. They moved to the Mosley after another motel on Fulton Industrial Boulevard shut down. They belong to a tribe of motel dwellers who are often one paycheck away from homelessness. Fulton County officials say the tribe is growing, residue of an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent.
The Mosley was home to so many families with children that school buses for Randolph Elementary, Sandtown Middle and Westlake High schools made it a daily stop. One tenant mother was taking one of her two children to cancer treatments. The place also had its share of undesirables -- prostitutes, pimps and pushers -- other residents said.
But for one small distressed community in southwest Atlanta, it was home.
"This place is a dump ... it is no place to raise kids," said Mosley resident Willie Scruggs, a 48-year-old, $9-an-hour construction worker and convicted felon. "The city of Atlanta knows what is going on. They send a school bus here. It is almost like they are condoning it."
The families lost their $25-a-night roof when the Fulton County Health Department ordered it to cease operations for health-code violations. Last week the Mosley informed its residents that it would be closing the next day but county officials swooped in to negotiate an extension until Friday, while it worked with three apartment complexes to relocate many of the residents.
"We have a large number of families living in these type of situations for six months or even five years," said Leonard Westmoreland, who oversees the county's emergency and transitional housing programs. "These are the working poor. Now with the economy you have people who were making $30 an hour now making $12 an hour and the people who were making $12 an hour are now making minimum wage.”
The apartment complexes agreed to lower the rent for residents who qualified -- one dropped it from $550 to $450 -- and to require only a $100 deposit, said Doreleena Sammons-Posey, director of human services for the county.
She noted that normally, families don't have enough savings to pay a deposit and a month's rent or sufficient credit to qualify for an apartment. In this case, she said, some residents have moved back to the couches of kin and friends or begun competing for scarce space in homeless shelters. Some of them had criminal convictions, some had too little money, some had disqualifying debts.
"We're not miracle workers," Sammons-Posey said.
Stanley and Amanda Johnson, 36 and 25, said they had been in the Mosley about six months, living next door to his sister who had been there for five years. He said he used to make good money as a long-distance trucker but a couple years ago, they both went back to school to get degrees as medical assistants, which they thought would lead to a more stable life.
Now with no full-time job, he is making $47 a day with a temp agency. Unlike his sister, he and Amanda didn't qualify for an apartment because they had an unpaid power bill.
"My sister got us this room so my wife and I had a place until we got back on our feet," Stanley said. "Now I don't know what we're going to do. The other day, I started crying."
Tony Phillips, the head of county code enforcement, said the displacement, while painful, would be for the best, in the end. He said the county had uncovered a series of dangerous code violations -- mold, faulty or overloaded electrical wiring, problematic plumbing, broken windows -- at the motel.
“It is not a place where you would put anybody you care about," said Phillips. "Years ago this was a tourist area for Six Flags and now it is something different. They are hotels and motels in name only. These are places where people live and the rooms are not designed for that type of occupancy.”
Phillips said code enforcement allowed the motel to operate with the stipulation that the the violations be fixed. Instead, he said, the owners allowed a California bank to foreclose the property. When the health department re-inspected the property it shut down the Mosley until the renovations were completed, Phillips said.
Code enforcement is focusing on motels along Fulton Industrial Boulevard, Phillips said, because drug dealers and prostitutes are often as much a fixture along the street as the working poor.
LaShanda Jones, the motel manager, said the Mosley had its tender side. She said four churches had adopted it as a mission site and the Christmas tree in the motel lobby had multiple presents for all of the 47 children who lived there.
At night, many of the students would gather in groups to work on homework in the motel's meeting room. Occasionally a school teacher would come by and pay the weekly $175 rate for a student's family.
"The teachers and the principals, they aren't going to let their kids be homeless," the 35-year-old manager said. "The teachers adopted the kids for Christmas. They had food drives and clothing drives. It was awesome."
And for some of the residents, the place kept families together. Debra Ross never expected to be there for five years but her husband, a fork-lift driver, made enough to money to support her and their small child and eventually the Johnsons, her brother and sister-and-law. Now the Ross family will be moving to an apartment brokered by the county.
"It was never the plan to be here this long but, you know, you get comfortable," she said. "I had no bad times here. Thank God for that."
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