PHILADELPHIA — Virginia Tharp stood in the back of the conference room at the Hammock Inn & Suites in Exton, smiling as she watched 5-year-old Avayah Harris belt “Jingle Bells” into the microphone.
“Sing it baby girl!” cheered Tharp, 47.
Tharp closed her eyes and smiled, and for just a moment, everything felt normal.
But then she opened them, and remembered where she was — a hotel. Otherwise known as her family’s home for the last four months.
Tharp and her five children are some of the 49 people from 22 Chester County families who’ve lived at the Hammock Inn since their homes were destroyed and lives upended by Hurricane Ida’s floodwaters in September.
They don’t want to live here, but amid a shortage of affordable housing in Chester County, they have nowhere else to go.
The families who remain displaced are some of the area’s most vulnerable. All are low- to moderate-income. Some have a history of eviction or struggle with poor credit — factors that make it even more difficult to find new housing in an expensive and competitive market.
The county is paying for their rooms, and upward of a dozen churches and local volunteers have stepped up to support them, raising money for future rent payments, delivering hot meals, and even submitting applications for subsidized housing.
Living in a hotel is no vacation. Families can’t cook, and mostly eat fast food or microwavable meals. Personal space doesn’t exist, and a good night’s sleep is rare.
“People forget that we’re still here,” said Tharp.