It has been more than three weeks since Jacalyn Willis and her family were forced out of their condemned Southeast Washington apartment.
Now they face a new predicament: Willis and other displaced residents said they worry that they might have to leave the hotel rooms where they have been staying at the expense of the city and the landlord as early as today.
Some tenants said they were told by a resource center for homeless families that shelters were full. "The city has displaced us, and they are just throwing us to the wolves," said Willis, 41. "They just closed the buildings down and put us out there in the cold."
Willis is one of 14 people -- 12 adults and two teenagers -- forced to leave three apartment buildings in the 5000 block of D Street SE after inspectors found several building and fire code violations. The tenants have been staying at the President Inn on New York Avenue NE since Oct. 27. B.M. Patel, the hotel's general manager, said barring any city action, the displaced tenants will have to leave today by the noon checkout time.
Several of the residents said city agencies largely abandoned them since putting them up in the hotel and failed to provide food, transportation for the teenagers to attend school and help in finding permanent housing. "It's like they just threw us in a hole," said Betty Bobo, 46.
Willis, Bobo and other tenants said that they have been promised assistance from city officials, but that aside from the hotel rooms, none has come through. They said ATM-style cards provided by the American Red Cross and used to pay for meals, clothing and other necessities ran out after about six days.
A spokesman for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Area said that the organization is more than willing to provide further assistance to the tenants but that it was waiting for guidance from the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.
The agency is one of several city departments involved in providing assistance and communicating with the tenants. Last night, a multi-agency conference call was held to discuss what, if any, steps would be taken.
A spokeswoman for the Emergency Management Agency said the tenants' hotel stay was extended beyond the seven days required by law.
Debra A. Daniels, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the agency's role was to provide the tenants with information on available homeless shelters. Daniels said last night that the tenants would indeed have to seek housing at District shelters today.
Willis, who is unemployed and does not own a car, said she kept her 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son out of school for three weeks because she didn't have money for transportation. Her children started taking Metro buses to school Monday.
She said family dinners -- in a hotel room without a refrigerator but with her microwave from home -- have consisted of cups of noodles, canned spaghetti, soup and oatmeal. "That's it, all day long," she said. "My kids are looking at me like, 'Mommy, we're hungry.' "
Landlord Alex Matthews, 39, said he has been working with various D.C. agencies to relocate the tenants and has asked city officials to again extend their stay at the hotel.
He said renovations are underway, and he has paid to put the tenants' belongings in storage and volunteered to cover other costs. "I'm trying my best to help them," he said.
But Matthews, who said he purchased the buildings in July, said the tenants were squatters who had not paid rent and had been living in buildings not ready to be rented out.
Tenants countered that they were not squatters, saying that they had been paying electrical, cable and telephone bills. Willis blamed Matthews for not making arrangements with her and other tenants so she could sign a lease and pay rent.
"Since when do illegal residents pay utilities?" she asked.
Willis said she and her family -- her fiance, Ty Reid, a former employee of The Washington Post; daughter Tamika Day; and son, Tyrell Day -- are not planning on leaving the hotel. "All of us have said we're not going to budge," she said. "For them to do this is not right."