Slum-locked family revels in its rescue Demolition: As the wrecking ball prepared to finish off the blighted neighborhood, city officials relocated a stranded family and well-wishers chipped in.

October 21, 1998|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

An East Baltimore family stranded in a crumbling slum house in the middle of a demolished block of abandoned properties was evacuated yesterday by the city housing department -- clearing the way for the destruction of a notorious heroin alley near an elementary school.

Billy and Muriel Warsaw and their two mentally disabled sons had resided in the disintegrating 1100 block of N. Port St. for 20 years when a Department of Public Works crew appeared last summer and began knocking it down, only to discover the family living there.

Caught in a battle between housing officials and landlord Stanley Rochkind, who controls more than 1,000 rental dwellings in the city, the Warsaws live on $700 a month from Social Security and could not afford to move when the wrecking ball laid waste to their street near Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School.

But that changed this week when city housing officials and well-wishers began pouring into the area after an article about their plight Sunday in The Sun.

"It was amazing," said Billy Warsaw, 64, as a crew of city workers lugged boxes of the family's belongings into a moving truck yesterday. "For six months, it seemed nobody could do nothing for us. Then, all the sudden, we're getting our life back."

The city paid to move the Warsaws to a relative's home in Northeast Baltimore, and pledged loan assistance to help them acquire a place of their own next year.

Housing and Community Development spokesman Zack Germroth said last week that the five dwellings remaining on the street -- all of which are in danger of collapsing and one of which is a well-used heroin parlor -- will be torn down by next week.

Good Samaritans stopped by the Warsaw's house throughout the day to drop off bags of clothes and food. One anonymous elderly couple from Baltimore County mailed the family a $15 money order with a hand-written note attached, saying, "We hope this helps some."

Outside Warsaw's warped front door, housing inspectors tacked up violation notices and fielded desperate pleas from residents to do something about the dozens of crumbling, rat-infested shells that dot Bradford, Port, Chase and Montford streets in a neighborhood they call "Zombieland."

Inspector Jim Davis had his hands full as he picked through one devastated address after another -- writing six violation notices in less than an hour, soothing angry guard dogs barking in back yards and taking complaints from tenants about their recalcitrant landlords.

"I can hear the rats trying to chew their way in here at night," said one woman as she poured a noxious mix of bleach and ammonia in her back yard to ward off the vermin that have roamed through the neighborhood since they were displaced by last summer's wrecking campaign.

"We know all about the problems with your wiring," Davis told one resident on North Bradford Street. "We're getting ready to haul your landlord into court."

"Yep, your landlord is on the list, too," he told another woman.

"Uh-huh, him too," he said to another. "The city attorneys will be all over that guy soon."

As he spoke, yellow dump trucks from the Public Works Department roared up and down Biddle and Port streets, dumping gravel into trash-filled craters left last summer by wrecking crews -- entombing rats, used syringes and old rubble under tons of dirt.

But with all the activity, wandering bands of addicts were little VTC discouraged from ducking inside an abandoned, needle-strewn house at 1116 N. Port St. to shoot up, until Baltimore Police Sgt. Tharmon Percell stopped by to check on the visiting social workers counseling the Warsaws.

"I guess I just wrecked their day," Percell said as the junkies retreated. "I wish I could wreck every day for them."

Moments later, on the second floor of the house at 1119 N. Port, a moving man tried to open Billy Warsaw's bedroom window. It fell out of its rotten frame with a dry cracking sound, sending a flurry of paint chips and splintered wood into the street.

"I hope they get done soon, before the whole place falls down," Percell said.

Speaking later in the day from the living room of her new home on a tree-lined street off Belair Road, Muriel Warsaw said: "I am so happy to be out of that place, you can't imagine. It's been hell, pure hell."

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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