Johnson City attempted to shut off power at the Haven of Mercy homeless shelter Friday evening, but BrightRidge employees were denied access, a BrightRidge spokesman said.

Tim Whaley, BrightRidge’s director of public and governmental affairs, said the power company received a request from the city’s building department to shut off electricity to the Haven of Mercy due to code violations.

Whaley said BrightRidge officials attempted to gain access to the building to shut off power, but they were denied access. As of Friday evening, power remained on at the Haven of Mercy, according to Whaley.

A Press reporter on the scene reported seeing a BrightRidge truck, along with several Johnson City police officers, but the officers and the truck left shortly after.

Whaley later said the city has asked BrightRidge to hold off on cutting the Haven’s power until further notice.

City spokesperson Ann Marie French said no one at the city was available for an interview on Friday evening, but the city did provide a statement to the Press.

“We received an anonymous complaint that the owner of the Haven of Mercy disconnected power to the annex building weeks ago and that there had been at least one fire in an electrical panel,” she said. “We are currently investigating.”

She confirmed that Johnson City was attempting to shut off the power based on reports of life and safety concerns. French said codes division employees were attempting to gain entry to the building to assess and inspect those concerns.

Devon Muse, an attorney for the Haven of Mercy, was at the shelter Friday talking to BrightRidge employees. He said no one denied staff access, and the shelter did not receive prior notice that the power would be shut off.

Whaley said the city sent a memo to BrightRidge asking them shut off power at the Haven. He said he was unable to provide a copy on Friday, directing the Press to either get it from the city or wait until Monday to submit a request with BrightRidge.

The Press asked the city for copies of the message and the order issued to shut off power at the Haven. French said she was working on getting more information, but she expected it would be Monday before she had it.

Background

Haven of Mercy has been in an ongoing dispute with the city over building code violations, which the city has said increase the risk of injury and fire at the homeless shelter.

In January, the Johnson City Board of Dwelling Standards initially voted to temporarily close the building while the owners made repairs. Among other violations, a closure order issued by the city said permits were needed for a kitchen hood, an electrical sub-panel behind the kitchen and interior electrical issues in the basement and throughout the building.

After a legal tug-of-war with the property owner, the board ultimately opted to rescind its order to vacate in February and heard testimony from shelter residents during a called meeting on March 11. The board continued the issue to a meeting on March 25, during which they set capacity limits on the building. Since then, the BDSR has been receiving regular progress updates.

Occupancy at the homeless shelter has been cut in half while repairs are completed, and there are now about 35 residents living there.

Muse said Friday the Haven of Mercy is making a good faith effort to repair the building.

“They’ve hired contractors, architects, they’re shelling out significant money to repair, as they’ve been instructed, any concerns,” Muse said.

Muse said shutting off power would displace the residents of the shelter.

“These are people first of all and people who have some difficulties that they’re facing,” Muse said. “The Haven provides some stability and an alternative and rehabilitation for them.”

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David Floyd covers Johnson City government, Johnson City schools and Ballad Health for the Johnson City Press. He grew up in East Tennessee and graduated from ETSU, where he was the executive editor of the school paper.

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