Eviction pile shows sad side of Baltimore

This Just In...

August 13, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

ANNETTE YOUNG'S late grandmother probably wore the hat to church -- a gray felt pillbox ringed in pale peach veil. Yesterday morning, the hat lay in a large pile of thrown-away goods in front of a rowhouse that had been Young's West Baltimore home -- and her grandmother's before that -- until the eviction.

The pile of goods was on Carrollton Avenue, across from where influential ministers gathered to endorse Carl Stokes for mayor. Everyone, including Stokes, saw the eviction pile, a common and depressing sight in the city of Baltimore -- someone's life turned inside out and dumped in plain sight. Evictions come from poverty, from dysfunction, from human failings. They happen up to 10,000 times a year. That should humble anyone who wants to be mayor.

Thrown out with the grandmother hat was a pair of eyeglasses.

And a box of old greeting cards.

Several crates squashed small boxes. There were chairs, the drawers of a chest, a record player sandwiched between boxes and trash bags, and rolls of ripped red carpeting. Two torn mattresses. A sewing machine. A saddle shoe. Sneakers. Sweaters. A broken shelf. A vacuum cleaner hose. Plastic fruit.

The owner of the rowhouse, the landlord, stuck his head out a second-floor window, then dropped more of the ripped red carpeting to the sidewalk.

Annette Young, who was evicted Wednesday, tried to balance bags of clothes and other belongings in a shopping cart. She had no car or truck. She'd been in the process of moving to another rowhouse for three days. Thirty-seven years old, she looked tired, dazed, resigned to losing the house where she, her mother and grandmother had lived for 15 years.

"Three," she said, when I asked how many months behind in rent she'd fallen. "It was $300 a month. I tried to rent some rooms to share the rent, but I couldn't."

And she hadn't worked since winter. She used to have a minimum wage job at a store in Glen Burnie. She caught a bus to Cherry Hill, from where her mother, Dorothy Forsythe, would drive her to work.

I asked how long it had been since she had worked.

"Not since my mother passed. ... My mother was my friend."

Young seemed fragile, a woman who'd lost a source of strength when her mother died. And so it came to this -- everything she could not carry in the shopping cart piled on Carrollton Avenue, awaiting a city trash truck. Some items, good stuff, had been taken by people who picked through the pile on Wednesday. "They took an air conditioner and a VCR," Young said.

Ministers, television reporters and photographers and supporters of Stokes gathered on the sidewalk across the street, at Metropolitan United Methodist Church.

A short, young woman came down Carrollton Avenue and looked in Annette Young's eviction pile for something she could use. She said her name was Terry McCutcheon. She pulled papers from a wallet. The papers certified McCutcheon as homeless. She's been in two shelters since May. Before that, she slept at a friend's house. Before that, she had been in jail. She was in jail for an assault she claimed as self-defense. Her sentence was 18 months.

McCutcheon said she went to the city housing office in January for help finding a place to live. "I'm still waiting," she said.

Another woman, Shirley Brown, sat on the top step of her rowhouse near the eviction pile. She complained of break-ins; she said she's thinking of moving to another neighborhood.

You could feel the weight of the moment -- three women, each with a different story, a life situation that speaks to the high concentration of human problems in Baltimore. It should humble anyone who wants to be mayor.

Shirley Brown saw the smartly dressed men and women near the steps of Metropolitan United Methodist Church. "What's going on over there?" she asked.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance was about to endorse Stokes' candidacy.

Joseph Johnson, a young man who works for the Stokes campaign, walked across the street to speak to Annette Young, then Terry McCutcheon.

Then came Stokes, tall and lean, in a fine suit. He knew he could not ignore the scene. Television cameras followed him.

"Hello, sister," he said, extending his hand to Young, then to McCutcheon.

He told McCutcheon that his staff would help her find transitional housing.

He spoke to Young, gently, about her eviction. He wanted to make sure it had been done by the book. He said his staff had called the Department of Public Works to get sanitation enforcement officers to the scene, to get the trash cleared, to make sure the landlord had not violated city law.

Stokes seemed to know what he was talking about.

He seemed to sense an opportunity to score a few votes, with television cameras closing in. But he also seemed genuine in his concern.

He seemed, for the moment, to be willing to accept the huge pile of human problems that weigh down the city.

Within a few minutes, two uniformed sanitation officers arrived, looked things over and interviewed Annette Young and her landlord. Some men and women came down Carrollton Avenue and ogled the eviction pile. Young pushed the shopping cart down the street, out of sight. The landlord went back to cleaning up the inside of the empty rowhouse.

Across Carrollton Avenue, a cheer went up for Stokes. The ministers prayed for the City of Baltimore.

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