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Residents of Matteson hotel get reprieve after fire system passes village inspection

Residents of a south suburban hotel, some of whom have lived there for years, got a reprieve Wednesday afternoon after the property passed a follow-up inspection concerning fire code violations, according to the village.

More than 80 residents of Travelodge in Matteson had been told Tuesday they had to leave by the end of the day Wednesday, according to Latricia Washington, a manager at the hotel.

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But Wednesday morning, residents learned they could get a last-minute reprieve and waited for the results of a prioritized afternoon inspection.

A police vehicle outside the Travelodge by Wyndham motel in Matteson on Wednesday before inspections of the motel's fire safety systems.
A police vehicle outside the Travelodge by Wyndham motel in Matteson on Wednesday before inspections of the motel's fire safety systems. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

Issues pertaining to fire alarms and smoke detectors on the second and third floors of the building had been addressed and the property passed the new inspection, according to Sean Howard, a village spokesman.

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He said the hotel still has a “mountain of other building code violations and police issues that need to be addressed,” but at this point the other violations are not serious enough to force a closure.

Washington said she was “crying tears of joy” after learning the property had passed the inspection, and notified residents that they could stay.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m over excited.”

Before the inspection, however, residents such as Lisa Perez were concerned where they would end up.

Fire Chief Michael Bacon arrives at the Travelodge by Wyndham motel in Matteson on Wednesday before inspections of the fire safety systems were conducted.
Fire Chief Michael Bacon arrives at the Travelodge by Wyndham motel in Matteson on Wednesday before inspections of the fire safety systems were conducted. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

“I don’t have a vehicle. I don’t have money. I don’t have anywhere to go,” she said. “I don’t even have a box to start packing my stuff.”

Stephanie McWilliams said that she and her five children shuttled from one motel to another since May, when they were evicted from their Chicago apartment.

“Me and my kids have not called anyplace home,” the single mother said, standing in the hallway outside her room Wednesday morning. “I can’t have them living in one-bedroom hotels.”

She is across the hall from Lisa Brooks, and the two have known each other for about six months but McWilliams said she considers Brooks as her mom, and her kids refer to her as grandma. They have both been at the motel for a little more than a month, they said.

Stephanie McWilliams, left, and Lisa Brooks have been living at the Travelodge in Matteson for a little more than a month.
Stephanie McWilliams, left, and Lisa Brooks have been living at the Travelodge in Matteson for a little more than a month. (Mike Nolan / Daily Southtown)

The hotel was in violation of “an abundance” of regulations for its sprinkler and fire alarm systems, with complaints going back to February 2021, the Matteson Fire Department said in a statement before the follow-up inspection.

Residents were being asked to leave specifically because some alarms in the building would not go off in an emergency, Matteson fire Chief Michael Bacon said.

Bacon pointed to the deadly apartment building fire in New York City this week as evidence of what can happen with safety issues.

“I can’t in good conscience go home every night knowing that I have a building in town where I’ve got people paying to stay, and sleep, and have the life-safety issues that we have,” he said, adding the Fire Department’s intent “was never to displace anybody.”

Latricia Washington is a manager at the Travelodge in Matteson, which the village had threatened to close for building code violations.
Latricia Washington is a manager at the Travelodge in Matteson, which the village had threatened to close for building code violations. (Mike Nolan / Daily Southtown)

The Matteson Police Department was working with nearby hotels to place residents who were unable to find other housing, according to fire officials. Some already have chosen to leave the hotel, Howard said.

Perez said the Travelodge also houses her daughter and five grandchildren, ranging in age from 5 years to 12 years old.

Her youngest granddaughter on Tuesday told Perez she doesn’t want to leave, she said.

“To see her like that, worrying, it made me sad,” she said.

The hotel provides not just a place to stay, Washington said, but also food, toy drives and COVID-19 tests for those in need.

“We lean on each other,” Perez said. “So for them to come knock on my door yesterday and tell me I have to leave … It’s just crazy.”

McWilliams and Brooks said that neither of them own a vehicle, and McWilliams said that, apart from child support, she has very little income.

“Every day I wake up and think ‘How am I going to pay for the room, how am I going to feed the kids?’” McWilliams said.

Brooks said that she is trying to maintain a positive attitude.

“We already know it’s going to work out,” she said.

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