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YOUNGSTOWN Officials speed up red-tag process



Published: Fri, July 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Three mothers charged with child endangering will be back in court this month.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- You can't live in a house without water service for a very simple sanitary reason: The toilet won't work.

Those who continue to live in houses without running water should know that Mike Damiano, city housing supervisor, has speeded up the process of red-tagging the dwellings. A red tag signifies that a house is uninhabitable.

This week, Damiano began obtaining a list of addresses where the water department has shut off service. He said the list is a good tool that his housing inspectors can use on their daily rounds.

The list is not, he said, a foolproof method of pinpointing problem houses because water service can be quickly restored once a past-due bill is paid. Property owners are ultimately responsible for water bills, even if the service was in the renter's name, Damiano said.

Amanda Beck represents the most recent arrest in a home without water.

The 20-year-old woman faces two counts of child endangering and will be back in municipal court July 12. Her bond was set at $1,500 with 10 percent allowed to be paid.

Here's the situation

The small house at 65 Parnell St. was red-tagged by the city Tuesday. A water department bill shows that the house hasn't had water in more than four years.

Patrolmen Terry Russo and Dan Mikus described the house as filthy and in deplorable condition with no refrigerator, no windows and no electricity. Beck's children, 11/2 years and 3 months old, were taken by Mahoning County Children Services after her arrest.

Lack of water resulted in squalid conditions at 731 W. Indianola Ave., which has sent the 10-room house to the top of the emergency tear-down roster, Damiano said. He said there are nearly 1,000 dilapidated houses and garages in the city that must come down.

Damiano said the owner of 731 West Indianola, RN Enterprises, will be given 30 days to bring the house up to code or see it demolished.

If the owner can't be found and personally served with a notice of code violations, the paperwork will be sent to 731 West Indianola and an ad placed in The Vindicator. After that, the house will be demolished and the cost added to the real estate taxes, Damiano said. Delinquent taxes are now at $1,973.

The water bill for 731 West Indianola is in the name of Michael R. Gibson of the Firepearl Group, which owns rental properties in the city. Records show the bill is $476 and the last payment was made in January.

Conditions in the South Side house -- just a stone's throw from Fosterville Playground -- forced the evacuation of children and resulted in the euthanized death of a pit bull that ate foam stuffing from a couch for food.

The stench of human and animal feces mingled with the odor of massive amounts of garbage caused police, CSB workers, housing inspectors and others to gag. No water or food was in the house.

The renter, 30-year-old Tonya Rushton, was released from the county jail this week after posting $30,500 bond on charges of child endangering and animal cruelty filed June 26. She will be back in municipal court Wednesday.

The children were initially taken by Children Services. Rushton, who described herself as a good mother and taxpayer, said the children are back with her.

What mother contends

Rushton told The Vindicator that she and her seven children -- ages 4 to 14 -- had not been staying at the Indianola house but with her sister on the North Side.

Four of the children were supposed to be at the playground on Glenwood when police found them inside the house on West Indianola, she said Wednesday.

Rushton said she is not responsible for the condition of the house on West Indianola because she hasn't lived there for about two months. She said that from October 1999 through April she had been paying $275 monthly rent to Firepearl but has no receipts.

All the mattresses in the upstairs bedrooms were urine-stained. Dirty clothes, rancid food remnants, cockroaches, trash and more on the floors made walking difficult.

A reporter asked Rushton about the starving dog that had to be put to death.

She said she forgot about the dog while she concentrated on finding subsidized housing for her large family. She said she had intended to find the dog another home and feels bad about what happened.

Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority said Rushton was denied housing at Rockford Village on the East Side because she couldn't get utilities in her own name. Rushton disputes that.

Denise Stewart, Children Services executive director, said she couldn't comment on specific cases because of confidentiality laws. She spoke in general terms about how the agency deals with mothers whose homes are unfit because of sanitary conditions.

Depending on circumstances, a homemaker from the agency can visit mothers and instruct them on how to cook, clean, budget and shop for groceries, Stewart said.

If a situation doesn't improve, other arrangements are made that include placing children with relatives, in foster care or a group home.

Sometimes, unclean houses are the result of mothers who lack motivation and an understanding of how important it is to "take care of business," Stewart said. Drugs, alcohol or depression can be the cause, she said.

What expert says

Speaking in general terms, Dr. Joan DiGiulio, chairman of the social work department at Youngstown State University, said there could be any number of reasons why people live in filthy conditions.

Single mothers, for example, may be depressed, be overloaded with responsibilities and lack a support system.

"I think most [mothers] want what's best for themselves and their children," she said. "It's hard to believe that they wouldn't know how to clean."

Aside from obvious health concerns, DiGiulio couldn't say what the long-term effect would be on children who live in such conditions.

Another mother in trouble with the law because of the condition of her home is 23-year-old Darlene L. Shina, who rented at 3916 Howard St. and has now moved next door to 3920, owned by Laurice Malek. Shina faces charges of child endangering and animal cruelty.

Housing inspectors red-tagged the house at 3916, owned by Tony Malek, after finding human and animal feces, trash and a nonworking toilet. Although the water bill for the house is past due, the service is not shut off, records show.

Shina was released from jail after posting $17,500 bond and will be back in municipal court July 23. Her estranged husband said he has their two children at his Austintown home.

Brian Shina said his wife was a horrible housekeeper when they were together. Their 4-year-old daughter described the toilet at her mother's house as "cucky potty," he said.

The dog taken from the Howard Street home, a bull dog, is also with Brian Shina at his Austintown home. The dog, which had no food or water, is now as fat as he should be, he said.

meade@vindy.com




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