funds. The developers’ scheme is also being fought in the courts. Houses Burning Down The residents’ fears were heightened by the recent wave of fires and the city’s investigation. In the last six months, fires have broken out in Freedmen’s Town nearly every week. Gladys House, who heads the community redevelopment organization Freedmen’s Town Association Inc., estimates that buildings in the district catch fire about once every 30 days. Her records indicate that on May 28, 1991, a house caught fire, damaging the building next to it. Meanwhile, just around the corner, another house started to burn. On June 30, another house ignited, taking with it the house next door and damaging another building. A few yards away, another building burned moments later. On July 27, three more buildings went up in smoke, two right beside each other and one half a block away. If fewer than a dozen more homes in the historic district are destroyed, the area will lose protection from development. According to records obtained from the city Arson Bureau, an analysis of fires set on six blocks of the historic district reveal 32 fires, of which 17 are unsolved arson cases over the last five years. Arson investigatorssaid that no insurance claims had been filed on any of the burned houses. Asked by Gladys House whether insurance investigations had taken place on any of the burned properties in the area since the city shut down the fire station, arson investigator Darrel La Mott answered that there had been none. The City Dawdles The city’s response to the blazes has been pitifully weak. Abandoned buildings do not warrant investigation by Houston’s Arson Bureau, and the majority of the arson reports for this six-block area designate the burned buildings as “Owner unknown. ” \(The Arson Bureau had not released information on the other 11 streets in the Freedmen’s the Freedmen’s Town fire department in 1987. Allegations of systematic arson have been repeatedly rejected by Houston authorities. Some people speculate that “crackheads” start the fires out of boredom. That’s certainly the conclusion reached by the Arson Bureau. Arson investigators La Mott and Fred Moore contended that the fires are all “drug related.” The Houston Narcotics Division has been called upon to raid all crack houses in the area, PATRICIA MOORE According to the United Way, here are an estimated 10,000 homeless people in Houston PATRICIA MOORE Gladys House claiming that such raids would stop the arson, but that theory has proven false. Fighting City Hall As the city drags its feet on investigating the fires, Freedmen’s Town residents’ frustration has mounted, culminating in the Labor Day March. Chanting demonstrators carried banners and signs saying, “It takes guts to be homeless,” “Call 911Homeless Need Help” and “The underutilized are not useless.” Frustrated by the city’s inertia and unresponsiveness, residents have tried some self-help. At a recent press conference, Gladys House, along with neighborhood ministers, organizations and businesses, announced a $1,000 reward to anyone providing information leading to the indictment of persons responsible for recent building fires. If the fires in Freedmen’s Town do not cease soon, the Fourth Ward will not have a significant enough number of homes to warrant historic district status. For Freedmen’s Town, whether by legislation or by fire, the result remains the same 5,000 people added to the already staggering 1989 United Way figure Of 10,000 homeless in Houston. City authorities seem unconcerned by that prospect, and are pushing forward the Founders Park project. Meanwhile, a child lies dead, critical questions go unanswered, and as the authorities fiddle, Freedmen’s Town burns. THE TEXAS OBSERVER l3
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