Neighbors Who Make You Want To Scream

Bonnie Towles stands on her porch. Every day she can see the homeless coming down her street.

"They lock those people out of the shelter every morning at nine o'clock," Towles says.

A forceful woman with blonde hair, she is a graduate of the Wharton School of Economics.

"Where are they going to go?" she asks.
She answers her own question.
"They come into my neighborhood. They've turned this place into a war zone." Towles feels helpless. She and her neighbors have been asking city officials for help since 1985.

"Once, I counted on Terry Goddard to help," she says. "That was a mistake. I've talked it over many times with Mary Rose Wilcox, our councilwoman.

"But no one's going to help us. I think the city wants to drive down the price of our homes so they can buy us out and build that football stadium." Towles lives in what politicians choose to call the Capitol Mall.

Her house stands at the northeast corner of Monroe and 15th Avenue. It has been extensively remodeled and is in excellent condition.

But as Towles stands and looks to the east, she can see the other houses.
There are signs in the front yards. The other houses are either for sale or for rent.

Towles blames this on the fact that the homeless shelter exists just a few blocks to the south.

"Mary Orton, who is in charge over there, would have you believe the inmates are merely socially maladjusted," Towles says.

She pauses for emphasis.
"I call them criminals," she says.

Towles has lived in the neighborhood eight years. She has watched it deteriorate.

"What would anyone expect?
"Just a few blocks from us, they're running an organized penal colony.
"The shelter inhabitants will tell you that themselves. They get ripped off just like the rest of us. There are beatings and stabbings on a regular basis.

"It's just that the police never report it anymore. I think they've been told not to do anything that will make anyone uneasy about the shelter." Towles has good reason to know about the men who inhabit the shelter.

"Over the years," she says, "I've hired at least fifty people from the shelter to work on properties I'm trying to renovate.

"Only two of the fifty didn't turn out to be drug addicts or psychotics." Towles pauses to let that sink in.

"Why do you think I'm telling you these things?" she asks.
"If I emphasize the negative, as I am now, it makes it even harder for me to attract tenants . . . and even harder for other communities to accept their fair burden of the homeless.

"But if I say nothing, then the city will just let them roam through our neighborhood and destroy us." Suddenly, the torrent of talk stops.

"I'm sorry," she says, "I'm getting strident. But I'm so pissed off I could scream.

"Mother Teresa came here. You know what she said? I've got the newspaper clipping right here. Let me read it to you." Towles goes through a file of papers on the table in her front room.

"Here it is." Towles holds up a newspaper clipping.
"Mother Teresa says about this neighborhood: `I'm used to seeing people on the streets cold and hungry but here it is much worse. I have never seen so many people just lying there in the streets and parks.' "When you leave here," Towles says, "go up a block or two north and see them sleeping in the park. It will turn your stomach. There are so many of them they are like locusts." Towles says no one is safe on the streets.

"There's a woman who runs a business on Madison Street who has been stabbed, knocked over the head and beaten on separate occasions.

"The city does nothing to help. Two years ago, a little boy was sexually assaulted and murdered by a homeless transvestite.

"Even that hasn't brought about a change in conditions.
"I had a guy working for me who ripped off my checkbook and cashed $2,000 worth of checks." Towles shrugs her shoulders. She looks helpless.

"I knew who he was but I couldn't get the cops to do anything. You know how it ended up? The bank canceled my checking account because they didn't want to take the risk anymore.

"People like Mary Orton would have you believe the entire homeless population down there consists of people simply down on their luck.

"If so, why do they have every door down at the shelter locked like it was a prison?" Towles shook her head. She no longer seemed angry. The fire was gone.

"It's almost as if the city wants to run down this neighborhood so somebody can make a real estate killing by buying us out.

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Tom Fitzpatrick