By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
A homeowner on 17th Street in Portsmouth says she lives in deplorable conditions because of at least three badly deteriorated, abandoned homes nearby.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told the Portsmouth Daily Times she cannot let her 14-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son spend much time outside out of fear for their safety.
“I see people going in an out, huge raccoons, rats and things like that running around,” she said. “There’s a lot of raccoons, and I believe they live in the house next to mine.”
She said she is afraid of the types of people who stay in the abandoned houses.
“We’re assuming that the females that are in there are prostitutes and drug users,” she said. “And the males — I don’t know if they are drug dealers, users, or if they are making drugs. But they are living in there. When it is warm it’s like Grand Central Station in the (Knost) alley. People come in and out. Then you have the vagrants with the carts and they park them out back.”
She said another neighbor also has a daughter, and their children can’t walk to each other’s houses out of fear.
She said a neighbor tried to board up the windows, but said an overwhelming amount of feces around the house drove him away.
At the rear of one property is a garage with a door standing open, and junk piled throughout the building. Weeds are several feet high.
There’s another danger she says that makes it impossible for her children to move around the neighborhood.
“The mosquitoes are so bad that you can’t go out,” she said. “The mosquitoes have literally eaten up every inch of my children’s bodies when they tried to go outside. They can’t go out in the yard or anything without someone out there with them. I’m also afraid because of all the creeps and weirdos, and since the raccoons carry rabies, it makes going out virtually impossible. Between the raccoons and the rats I’m afraid my kids are going to get bitten. I tell my children, if they go over there they could get killed or bitten.”
The woman told the Times the houses have been abandoned for the three years she has lived there.
“First, I called the police many times, and the police actually called the (City) Health Department while they were at my house, at least twice. The police have called them from my house,” she said. “Nothing happened. Nobody came out.”
The woman said she has not seen anyone from the city come out to the abandoned properties.
“Last spring, I was tearing out a lot of things and trying to pick up a lot of things that float over onto my property as well,” she said. “I called the (City) Engineer’s office at least seven to 10 times, trying to get them to clean it up. There’s trees that are growing out into the street.”
City Health Commissioner Chris Smith said his office has received no requests, since 2010, concerning the houses in the 1100 block of 17th Street. He said it was about that time the staff was cut at the Health Department, hampering efforts to board up houses in the area.
The woman understands the staffing issues but says something still needs to be done.
“They need to come and clean it up or tear them down, or, if they can’t tear them down — and they say they can’t do it — board the windows and the doors, and clean those yards up,” the woman said. “They have to be cleaned up because the mosquitoes will not go away until they do.”
The fears remain even inside her home.
“I have had people over there shine their lights into my 14-year-old daughter’s bedroom,” she said. “I called the police on them. I have also noticed that someone has dragged a mattress up on the porch of one of them. So I don’t know if someone has brought a mattress in to try to stay there again, or what’s going on.”
Smith said one of the houses, at 1115 17th St., owned by Mike Craigmiles, had a boarding request issued for it in June 2010.
“The house at 1123 17th St., owned by Derrick Lattimore, actually had people living in it. It was condemned in June of 2010,” Smith said. “Once the Health Department condemns it and gets the people out, then it becomes Engineering. But we are trying to help Engineering by taking people to court, and also with the Land Reutilization program. He (Lattimore) has gone at least three or four times through the Nuisance Committee. So it’s essentially in their (Engineering) laps at this point. We are trying to get out of the ‘it’s their problem, it’s our problem’ thing. We just want to get them torn down.”
The city is currently taking the owners of five houses to court as a way of dealing with the problem of abandoned housing.
City Engineering Department head Crystal Weghorst did not return a call Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the homeowner continues to fear for her family’s safety and she hopes that the city will eventually tear down these houses — three properties on a list of about 200 the city is trying to deal with.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.