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Guns, Masks, Garbage, Crack: Government Officials Raid Drug House

May 21, 2007 — With weapons drawn and faces and hands covered with masks and gloves, two men make their way cautiously up the crumbling stairs of a dilapidated building in Contant, home to at least 11 people.
Two dogs bark behind a blue door at the bottom of the stairs while a scrawny, crack-ravaged woman named Anna sits in front of the door watching the men search her home. She keeps the dogs at bay under threat of them being shot.
The men are from the Health Department's Division of Environmental Health.
Anna says she has lived on the property — just a block from the Charles Harwood Highway — for three years. Today is her birthday. She is 48.
Meanwhile, her companion, Roy, sits on a wall surrounding the front yard which is piled high with debris on the street side of the property. Roy says he's 40 and a crack addict. "I don't do anything else," he says.

Roy says he has cleaned up a few times by attending meetings of a self-help group for addicts. It is clear he is no longer clean.
He watches as officials from the V.I. Police Department, Human Services, Fire Services and Public Works take turns making their way gingerly around the tiny plot of land that holds two main structures — a hollowed-out house in the front and the larger two-story building in the back.
Clothing hangs haphazardly on fences and on wires strung randomly across the property. A brand-new baby carriage sits in a corner behind what was once the small concrete house, which now has no windows or doors. Buttressing a wall on the eastern property line are old mattresses, clothes, empty bleach bottles and a lot of unidentifiable garbage.

Health enforcement officer Dwayne V. Maduro says it looks like people set wood fires for cooking inside the house.
Utilities are a thing of the distant past. Feces and urine cover the floors of some of the upstairs rooms. One woman from Human Services declines to move to the back of the property, saying she has a cold. She knows Anna.
Anna has been part of the "system" for years, she says. "But her children are grown now," so Celina Joseph, a social worker, says she hasn't seen her for awhile.
James Grayer, Human Services district manager, explains that in the absence of children or elderly, there is little help available for these middle-aged, homeless addicts.
Sarah, 38, wanders up the congested street lined with official as well as private vehicles with her new puppy on a leash. The puppy, she says, is named "Disgustin'." Sarah lived at Bethlehem House for awhile but got "thrown out" after being there for six months, she says.
Bethlehem House requires residents to be abstinent from drugs, according to Barbara Petersen, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, who has been called to the scene.
The first person called to the scene Monday morning was Police Commissioner James McCall, who said a neighbor called him.
It is not the first time. At least one businessman in the area has registered complaints many times in the past about the house and its residents.
Neighbors say the woman who owned the house died. That's all anyone knew Monday morning about how it came to pass that these people had lived in squalor across the street for the last 7 or 8 years.
And the government officials were at a loss as to what to do.

There was talk of demolition, but legal constraints hamper any immediate action. A few spoke of trying to barricade the property to keep the residents out, but no one could answer where they would go if they lost their current "home."
An assessment could be done on each individual to see if programs are available for them, Grayer says, "but first we have to see who's here."
Kenneth Blake, director of Crime Prevention for VIPD, suggested a community meeting with the residents to get them all together and see if there was a way to help them: "See what their problems are and tell them what our problems are."
One neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said government agencies had been there before. The current inhabitants of the derelict buildings "just hide around the corner, and when the authorities are gone they come back," he says.
An elderly woman limps by, assisted by a cane. "I don't live around here," she calls out to no one in particular, "but this thing hurts my feelings." She shakes her cane in the direction of the squalid property.
Gabriel St. Surin, technical assistance to the PWD commissioner, shakes his head repeatedly as he surveys the property. "I didn't know things like this existed here," he says.
Meanwhile, Roy says, "Just bring us a Dumpster."
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