Many people equate their home to be a safe haven. A place where no matter the surroundings or the neighborhood you feel a sense of security. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the residents of the 3900 block of North Fifth Street.
Here, residents live on a street that has row homes on one side and a school on the other. This school, Roberto Clemente Middle School, which has been closed for nearly 10 years, is a vacant building that poses many hazards for the residents of the block. “The Old Roberto,” as residents like Lydia Vasquez put it, has been is disarray for many years.
“People just break in and do drugs. The kids who don’t know no better play in there and they see needles. But that’s not even the real danger. My daughter’s friend was actually hurt walking home one day and bruised her arm.” Vasquez was referring to an incident where a girl was struck by a falling rock while walking home from school.
As you walk past this building which stretches the entire block between Luzern and Pike Streets, it is easy to spot what the residents were referring to. Shards of glass, pieces of instillation and rocks litter the sidewalk making it nearly impossible to walk down.
Fear embodies the pedestrians at the bus stop, which is directly in the middle of the block. As though it was common place, commuters frantically look up and down to ensure no rocks, pieces of glass or metal studs fall from above or are loosely hanging.
The entrances on all sides are boarded up and the windows have bars to stop potential intruders. The foundation has begun to sink and the cement that outlines the brick is chipped.
Hector Demizio, who owns a used appliance shop across from “The Old Roberto,” explained that he had called the city numerous times after a rock hit the roof of a customer’s car. “It dented my customer’s roof and I had to pay the damages. We tried to call the city, even the 311, but nobody has come or even called me or any of us back.”
There have been many incidents of destroyed property and a few non-fatal injuries on the block. Every resident on the block seemed to have a story to tell. Pierre and Stacy Lyons, transplants from Atlanta, complained of headaches from the dust. “People work here sometimes and when they do the dust gives me a headache,” Stacy Lyons explained. Pierre mentioned having a headache once or twice but said what really bothers him is “the musty wet basement smell.”
Troy Roberts, a father of two and an employee of the Philadelphia School Board Police, spoke of three incidents in the past two weeks where he physically went into the building and had to chase kids and drug users out. “I arrested this dude the other day.” Roberts said the man was in the building smoking a substance out of a pipe. “When he saw me, he threw it out one of the windows and ran towards one of the stairwells. The pipe had to land somewhere and that’s the problem.” Roberts expressed his concern for children finding this and other paraphernalia highlighting the potential dangers of them using.
Almost all of the residents have had different experiences. Some residents have had issues with the falling debris, some with drug users, some with odd smells and others with dust. While no story is the same, two things are the same throughout. There is a serious issue surrounding this property that needs to be addressed and not one person thinks anything will be done.
“They won’t do anything until someone gets killed. They don’t care about this building, they are too busy making more stores and cleaning up Center City,” Vasquez said.