JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – People staying at the Gold Rush Inn on Harts Road were caught off guard Wednesday when news broke the state was shutting the motel down. Fortunately, the city is offering assistance and assurances that they won’t be left with nowhere to go.
News4Jax has learned the city’s fire marshal has given the motel until Monday to remove all of those guests who already paid for a room. Currently, they are not allowed any new clients.
Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney said Wednesday afternoon it was the right move to close down the motel, which is known as a hotspot for criminal activity that includes eight homicides because it was only a matter of time before another crime occurred there.
News of the emergency closure rattled residents like Tim Harris and his girlfriend, who are working out where they’ll go while the motel is shut down. It was a lot for the couple to process. “She is in there crying. She is 100% disabled. We’ve got to stay somewhere,” Harris said.
One of the guests, Carlton Balkcom, told News4Jax on Wednesday closing the motel was going force him to be homeless.
”Everybody was in such demand to shut this place down but how many people are willing to step forward to help house these families?” he said.
News4Jax caught up with Balkcom again on Thursday. He said he is getting help in the form of a $1,200 voucher from the city. He says he has no other choice but to take advantage of it.
Several others at the motel said the same thing.
Skyler Avry says he is very leery and still wonders why the hotel had to be closed.
“I think the state did this the wrong way,” Avry said. “There are a lot of bad people in the area in general. I don’t think the hotel being closed is the right thing. I’m not the people out here shooting people.”
He said that a lot of people depend on the hotel, he is trying to make an honest living and he has a family to feed.
City and state officials say they did the right thing due to the unsafe conditions.
Violations noted by a state health inspector on Dec. 11 included dirty conditions, trash, broken glass on grounds, holes in the walls, light fixtures hanging by wires, soiled mattresses, mold and roaches.
Gaffney promised to help residents who find themselves displaced, though concrete details weren’t immediately released. But according to the city, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and city services teams have been on-site, working with residents to figure out their options.
The city said Thursday no one has been denied a safe and accessible place to shelter, and that the motel’s owner has reportedly offered to relocate tenants to other properties he owns, despite the scrutiny and potential legal action he faces.
During a meeting with other council members Wednesday, Gaffney said he plans to introduce legislation that will give the city more teeth in closing down other problem sites. This way, shutdowns could happen at the city level, not requiring permission from the state.
News4Jax requested a statement from the motel owners, but have not yet heard back.