Originally created 02/16/02

Evicted Athens residents rally



ATHENS, Ga. - After months of searching for a new home and taking part in neighborhood meetings, Garden Springs resident Henry Gomez still doesn't have an affordable place to live. He'll be out on the street when his trailer park shuts down at the end of the month, in preparation for the construction of upscale apartments.

The 24-year-old sanitation worker made his frustration public this week, taking part in a small rally in downtown Athens, held in part to remind people that Garden Springs residents might be leaving the North Avenue park peacefully by March 1, but they won't leave quietly.

"A lot of us are still looking," Mr. Gomez said, after scrawling out a protest message in Spanish on a white signboard. "My friends who have kids, all the time they're asking where they're going to live. They don't know what school their kids will go to."

"What happened in the community, we don't want to happen in another community," he added.

About 500 mostly low-income residents of the Garden Springs Mobile Home Park must leave by March 1. The park's owners sold the 22-acre tract for $1.7 million to an investor group. The Garden Springs Coalition, a group of 20 private agencies and churches that have joined to aid residents, has been scrambling to help find temporary lodgings for Mr. Gomez and other tenants who are still hunting for homes.

In many cases, they have been successful.

On Monday, trucks hired by the coalition will rumble into the North Avenue park and begin hauling away trailers. Park supporters made a major breakthrough recently when the coalition located two trailer parks on Commerce Road with space for trailers. Movers offered the Garden Springs residents a good price to haul 20 trailers to the new parks, said Stella Sailors, director of Catholic Social Services.

Twenty-three churches have agreed to sponsor families who are losing their trailers in the move because of an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that doesn't allow mobile homes manufactured before 1976 to be moved. The money will go toward buying affordable replacement trailers. Another bright spot came when a fact-finding group of the Ford Foundation, a major philanthropic group, agreed to visit with Garden Springs residents and supporters next week.

The park has so far garnered about $250,000 in donations and grants.

The downside, Ms. Sailors said, is that little money is available for families whose moving expenses aren't covered by grants or church sponsorship. And finding apartments in the price range of most tenants who have not found sponsorship is tough.

"A lot of us are still looking. My friends who have kids, all the time they're asking where they're going to live. They don't know what school their kids will go to." - Henry Gomez, Garden Springs resident