Apartment discovery

City police find 5 children

They are discovered in squalid room in three-story building in the Pimlico area

March 08, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

The ramshackle apartment house is as worn as many of the people who live and visit there. A gutter hangs off a roof, the front door's lock is missing and the warped porch is buckling. Inside, plaster crumbles from gashed walls and wires hang from the ceiling. The oil for heat ran out two days ago.

It was here that a police officer yesterday found five children -- the youngest, 7 months, the oldest, 5 years --in squalor in one tenant's room.

The officer came to the house in Northwest Baltimore to check a report that a person had overdosed on drugs. Instead, the officer found the children unattended, police say. Two boys had slept overnight in the top of a bunk bed, three girls on the bottom, in a grimy room with graffiti-covered walls and a sagging ceiling covered with mold.

Officials removed the children, took them to a local hospital for evaluation, and referred them to the city's child protective services agency, whose spokeswoman declined to comment last night. A police spokesman said the officer took action because the children were found alone in the dilapidated building.

"Instead of finding a victim of an overdose, we found five children who had been abandoned in an apartment, in what most people would deem unlivable conditions," said the spokesman, Agent Donny Moses.

But some residents at the home, including a relative who said he was the son of condemned murderer Vernon Lee Evans Jr., said the children were not alone and had been visiting there overnight. He said their mother had left to get food for them just before the police arrived.

"That police was dead wrong," said Vernon A. Evans, who rents the room where the children were staying.

The mother and the children don't live in the building, but they had stayed there overnight because it was too late for them to return to their home, according to Volene Owens, the children's grandmother. Four of the children belong to Kia Owens and the fifth is a nephew that she watches over, she said.

Kia Owens and Vernon A. Evans are cousins. Kia Owens could not be reached for comment.

"She came up here to see me," said Volene Owens, who had been visiting a friend in the building Monday night. "It was too late for her to leave, but I didn't want her to stay because I knew the environment in this building."

The city's Department of Social Services would not release details of the children's status last night.

The events that unfolded yesterday illustrate the challenges facing city officials, tenants and property owners in areas of the city where the drug trade flourishes. Police decried the conditions that the children were found in. Tenants said the children were being supervised, and blamed the landlord for the rundown conditions.

The landlord, Marcus L. Auslander, said that he was doing the best he could to maintain the property, even as tenants and visitors destroyed any improvements he tried to make.

"We repair, they destroy, we repair, they destroy," Auslander said. "It's constant."

Auslander said that he's in the process of evicting one tenant because of his involvement in the drug trade.

The building "needs some repairs," Auslander acknowledged. "We constantly fix. We spend thousands of dollars fixing."

City housing authorities said they had cited the owner of the three-floor building before for code violations, but none was of an emergency nature. An inspector checked the property yesterday, and was expected to return and evaluate the property again today to determine whether the city housing department would attempt to revoke Auslander's multifamily dwelling license, according to David Tillman, a city housing spokesman.

"If our inspectors go out there and find him in violation of his multifamily dwelling license, we will move quickly to vacate the property," Tillman said.

According to some residents and neighbors, the building in the 3300 block of Spaulding Ave. has been the scene of drug activity for some time. The free-standing building is between rowhouses in the city's Park Heights neighborhood.

William Singleterry, the building's maintenance manager who also lives in the building, said he and other workers frequently make repairs to the apartments, but visitors and tenants destroy their work. He said he had to erect a wooden wall on the porch, to prevent people from loitering at the front of the building.

"They were hiding drugs in the light fixture in the front lobby," said Singleterry. "The people who don't live here tear the holes in the walls."

Caroline Young, 59, said she has lived in the building more than seven years, and said she hoped conditions improve. She said she pays $312 a month in rent.

"The landlord wants the money, but he don't want to get the work done," she said yesterday, while standing on the front porch. "The work gets put off and put off and put off."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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