Newark woman guards abandoned homes from addicts, transients

10 years 6 months ago #1 by EsseXploreR
NEWARK -- By the time I got to South 19th Street in Newark, Troy Mickens was in full rant, shouting up the stairs of the abandoned house next door to hers.

She had already kicked two people out and was going back inside after a few more.

Troy Mickens kicks out drug addicts who loiter in the abandoned house next door to her home. She is afraid the addicts may accidentally set a fire which could spread over the block.
"Y'all got to go," she yelled. "You know you're not supposed to be up in there."

Moments before, while talking to me about her street and the house, she suddenly noticed that the addicts were back. I drove out to watch the solitary battle she fights every day.

Sometimes her outrage takes her half way up the stairs. This time she was at the bottom step, screaming at those on the second floor to get out now. "We're coming," the faint voice of a woman said.

A man came down first, claiming he wasn't up there getting high. Then, two women -- ragged and slovenly -- rattled down the stairs carrying black garbage bags with clothes. Mickens didn't let up as they hurried away.

"Don't come around here with that," she said. "We don't want that around here."

Mickens, 42, has been fighting the same battle since February. It's a dangerous personal crusade, a struggle much bigger than what she can handle alone. There are addicts on one hand, using the old house as a macabre oasis to get high. Then there is the city hall bureaucracy, which she harangues, asking for help in getting the house shut down.

Police said they received 29 calls about the house in the past six months. Most of them had to be Mickens. Police responded 23 times, handing out three quality-of-life summonses. On the other side of administrative aisle, the city's Department of Neighborhood Services had been looking for the owner, Robert Austin, of Plainfield.

Director Melvin Waldrop said this house should have been taken care of by now. The owner had been cited for garbage and debris last year and again this year. He's due in court next month. When I asked about the home, Waldrop said his department would board it up if the owner didn't respond to an August notice telling him to renovate or demolish the property.

Crime and sordid attrition threatens the short block between Clinton Avenue and Hopkins Place, the block Mickens has called home for 10 years. On her side of the street there are three abandoned houses, including the one next to her home, a two-family house where she lives on the first floor. Across the street, near the corner, a fourth house is empty, and another house under construction hasn't been worked on in months. When she moved from Hillside, where she grew up, Mickens said the neighborhood became drug infested and cars were stolen until she and a few neighbors rallied together to stop it. Things quieted down for a few years until the addicts took up refuge in the house, bringing with them unwanted drug traffic. Since February, Sgt. Ronald Glover said police have made 64 arrests, mostly for possession of drugs on the street from Clinton to Hopkins.

He said police also handed out 38 summonses for things like urinating in public, drinking in public, or playing loud music. Another 38 people were stopped, many for loitering. A lot of action for a neighborhood of working class and retired residents. They all know their local enforcer, but they do not join in her tirades.

Up until Aug. 25, the house had electricity, another source of frustration for Mickens, who also bugged Public Service Electric & Gas to turn it off.

"This is insane," Mickens said. "This is ridiculous."

I called PSE&G, asking how the electricity could stay on in an abandoned house. Was someone paying the bill for this wretched place? A spokeswoman said she was not at liberty to disclose information about the account unless the customer had issues with the utility company.

If that's not bizarre, there are the transients themselves. One woman, known as "Chocolate," moved into the house around February, Mickens said. She would keep the porch lights on when other addicts came in at night. Mickens has kicked her out numerous times, but Chocolate said she kept the house in order and let the others come there to sleep.

Residents said some transients looked down on their luck. Others were neatly dressed and stepped out of a Cadillac, or a Lexus, a BMW, or a Jeep. And they all got tossed when Mickens heard them next door.

"It's every day and all day," said her neighbor, Yvette Strickland pounding her fist to emphasize the point. "It's like a revolving door. It's on and on and on."

The house, once fully furnished, has been stripped of anything valuable, pipes, wires, windows, Sheetrock, are gone. Flies are everywhere. Debris, garbage and old clothes fill every room, along with half-gallon water jugs and plastic containers now filled with urine. Crack vials lay upstairs on the floor, several clumps of feces in another. The stench makes you cringe.

But Mickens never stopped her routine. She fears addicts would accidentally set a fire and the fire would spread over the block.

"What do you expect me to do?" she said. "Ain't nobody else going to do it."

On Thursday, following my calls, city work crews went to seal the home. The owner, after months of not being around, showed up, too, with a company to do the work. Austin said he owned the house with a friend, whom he thought was keeping tabs on the property. He had men cleaning out the backyard. Mickens is happy for now. She said the addicts are upset. She saw disappointment in their faces from her window when they showed up Friday morning looking to get high. They just stood there, Mickens said, in front of the house then left in a huff.

The best part about it, though, was Mickens didn't have to shout or say any thing. She was peaceful.

"It's better to regret something you did, then something you didn't do"

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