Rent-free house offered to family repairs needed

November 11, 1994|By Robert C. Hilson Jr. | Robert C. Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

For the last year Viola Jones and her three children have slept anywhere possible -- hospital emergency rooms, unfurnished houses, shelters and park benches. But that could change soon. Maybe.

Shortly after a newspaper article detailed the plight of Ms. Jones and her children, she was offered a rent-free house in West Baltimore for 18 months. The Harlem Park house is in good condition, but it needs electrical and roofing work before she can move into it.

Ms. Jones survives on $441 a month in child support payments. Although she is grateful for the offer and would like to move in soon, her problem is getting the repairs done at a low cost.

"I'm going to keep on looking though," she said yesterday. "Everybody I know say they can't do it, but I'm going to try and get it done. I hope everything works out because I want to get settled before it gets too cold."

Ms. Jones, 28, and her children -- ages 7, 5 and 18 months -- have been homeless since they moved to Baltimore from Richmond, Va., in search of her brother last November. Lately they have stayed at a friend's house in Reservoir Hill, and the family's only certain meal is at Our Daily Bread, a downtown soup kitchen.

Ms. Jones and her family spend most of their days walking the downtown streets -- Ms. Jones pushing her toddler daughter in a stroller while the other children tag along beside her. She plans to put her two older children in school after she has a permanent residence.

Saundra Banks, who owns the house on Harlem Avenue and is also the clerk for the city Circuit Court, said that the three-story, four-bedroom house is habitable but that she prefers the work be done before occupancy.

For instance, she said, loose wires hang from the kitchen ceiling and the room is not lighted.

"I think the house needs to have the work done before she can move," Ms. Banks said. "A family doesn't need to move into a house where you can't use your kitchen."

The house, which was rented in past years, has been vacant since January, Ms. Banks said. In an agreement with Ms. Banks, Ms. Jones will only pay utility bills and provide furniture. A written contract would have to be agreed upon before Ms. Jones and her children move in.

When she does move, a charitable East Baltimore organization that aids the homeless and people facing eviction has offered furniture.

John Schiavone, executive director of the clothing and furniture bank at the St. Vincent dePaul Society on North Central Avenue, said Ms. Jones can have as much of the used furniture as she wants.

"She could come down and take a look at what we've got and see what she needs," Mr. Schiavone said. His organization does not offer appliances.

But Ms. Jones and her family -- who have slept on floors for countless nights -- the biggest concern is not what's in the house, but just being able to move into the house.

"Just being able to move into a house we'll be able to move up and get things going and get established," Ms. Jones said. "We just want to be able to know we have a place to go when it's cold."

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