Home free except for $4,000 cost of moving it

October 09, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Delroy Matthews' life fell apart in 1989, when the house his grandmother left him in rural Oella burned to the ground.

Since then, he has been living out of a rusting, blue 1984 Datsun on his 2.5-acre property in southwestern Baltimore County, making do with public assistance and odd jobs.

"When you're like this, you do get depressed. It ain't nothing you can really do," he said.

But Mr. Matthews, 42, thinks he has found a solution -- a vacant prefabricated house owned by Baltimore County, stored on cement blocks a quarter-mile down the road in Banneker Park. In exchange for outdoor labor at the park, the county will give him the house.

The only problem: Moving the house to his property will cost about $4,000, money he doesn't have.

Mr. Matthews heard about the one-story house eight months ago from Steve Morea, who runs a salvage company and has employed him occasionally.

"I know Delroy's been living in a car," Mr. Morea said. "He's been bugging me for materials to build a shed or something. I said, 'Let's see if we can get this moved, because all's they're going to do is let it go.' "

The county has removed some windows and exterior siding, and vandals have stolen the carpeting, but otherwise Mr. Matthews thinks the house is habitable.

"I've never been able to get on the inside because it's boarded up," he said.

The house is now covered with black plastic sheeting, but Mr. Matthews enthusiastically showed a visitor around the outside and said he was told of laundry facilities and two or three bedrooms inside. Visible from the ground between the house's two sections are a hallway and a pink bathroom with a mirror.

On July 15, Mr. Matthews wrote a proposal to Stephen P. Myer, senior buyer with the Baltimore County Office of Central Services. In exchange for the house, Mr. Matthews offered to plant a flower bed and to weed and cut the grass in the park four hours a day, five days a week, for three months.

"We thought it was a good proposal and certainly to our advantage to go in that direction," Mr. Myer said. "If not, it would have cost us to take [the house] apart and take it to the landfill."

Mr. Myer said the house, purchased to replace a park caretaker's home, initially was worth about $30,000 but is now worth less than $5,000 -- about the value of Mr. Matthews' labor.

Mr. Myer accepted the offer Aug. 30. Since then, Mr. Matthews chopped down a tangle of bushes behind his car where he wants the house to go, collected furniture and appliances to furnish the house and received promises from friends to help him set it up.

Although the county has no other plans for the house, Mr. Matthews is worried that the situation may change.

"They're not going to leave it there forever," he said.

He's said he has tried everything he can think of to move the house -- contacting local politicians and making phone calls. "I don't have no solutions. I done did everything I could do," he said.

Support has come from the Rev. John H. Davis-El, pastor of Mount Gilboa A.M.E. Church a few blocks away. Last month, Mr. Davis-El invited County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley to see how Mr. Matthews lived and to look at other community problems.

Mrs. Manley said she saw solutions to some of the community's problems, but not to Mr. Matthews'. "We can't help the gentleman with that project," she said.

Mr. Davis-El became interested in Mr. Matthews, who is a recovering alcoholic, after he preached a sermon about coming into the house of Jesus to get salvation. Mr. Matthews heard the sermon and invited Mr. Davis-El to his property.

"I saw where he lived, and my heart just dropped," the clergyman said.

Mr. Matthews' property looks like a rummage sale. He cooks outside on the grill of a cast-iron, potbellied stove he got second-hand. For food, he often goes to the Country Corner Store near the church. He helps owner Jay Patel bring stock into the store, and in return Mr. Patel gives him leftover bread and baloney.

"He wants only two slices. It's better to give to him than to feed the birds," Mr. Patel said.

For shelter, Mr. Matthews has only the battered car and a yellowed sleeping bag. He rolls up the windows and locks the doors at night. He said he hears frightening noises from animals and people who roam the property after dark.

"When it gets dark, that's when I go to sleep," he said. "The colder it gets, the sooner you get up. You can't sleep in the cold."

In a refrigerator near the car are files containing his important papers. "It's all wet and mildewed, but you do the best you can," he said, thumbing through the pile.

Hanging on the branches of the trees are Christmas lights he once hung for illumination -- when he had a gasoline-powered generator. There are boxes with mementos, drawers with old cameras and tape recorders, file cabinets containing flower and vegetable seeds, a dozen old tires, some lawn mowers, an old console TV, and clotheslines draped with old garments.

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