Events on what may be the city's worst block provide a stark glimpse into a Philly many Philadelphians never see. One former resident survived to tell the tale.
Shawn's landlord installed a $200 cabinet made of unfinished wood from Lowe's before they moved in, and those on the block with the same landlord got nothing.
Shawn and Ramon's landlord is tall and black with a lumbering gait. He works out of an office in Center City, and oversees a number of properties in Kensington, including the house across the street from Shawn and Ramon. He's not a slumlord, though it's hard to dodge the accusation with the properties he oversees.
This street wasn't like this before, the landlord assures you. The changes it's undergone are far beyond his control.
He installed the cabinets for Shawn and Ramon because he thought they were worth the investment. He won't make any renovations of the house across the street because its residents are late with the rent and the cops are always at the door. He suspects the tenants of drug dealing and would like to evict but can't bring himself to put them on the street, no matter how much he dislikes them.
Was the broken window a message intended for the landlord? Or to show Shawn and Ramon how things work on Hurley Street? Hard to say with no witnesses coming forward. But the broken window has set things in motion. The ball is rolling now, and there's no way to stop it.
On her family's second day on Hurley Street, according to Shawn, the neighbors start dumping garbage on their front steps. Shawn and Ramon rise up at this display of disrespect, talking loud at the neighbors from their stoop to let them know they aren't scared. Shawn lets the young girls on the block know she doesn't play, and would fight anyone at any time.
Shawn's younger brother Hakeem--or "Young Cannon," as he calls himself--doesn't help by talking sweet stuff to the same girls after his sister disappears into the house. The mothers and brothers of the girls watch closely.
Soon a full-blown beef is in the works. Lamar comes from the house across the street to let Shawn and Ramon know the official Hurley Street rules. He tells them he doesn't like them turning the lights off at night, and demands they keep the shades up 24/7. He suspects Ramon and Shawn are informants, and that when the lights are off they're watching his house. Shawn and Ramon tell Lamar they'll have their lights any damn way they want them. They take offense at the implication of snitching.
Shawn and Ramon also think their house was a stash spot before they arrived. The house directly south of theirs--the one that's sported a "FOR SALE" sign forever--is one of the block's many unoccupied structures.
The windows are shattered, and there are more long, jagged shards of glass piled up on the sidewalk in front. It's become the new stash spot. Lamar and some Latin boys on the block have taken over the house, and are using it to sell weed and wet.
It's now a week into life on Hurley Street, and Shawn and Ramon report things are getting seriously crazy. The boys on the block are throwing quarter sticks of dynamite into the empty houses late at night. The dynamite echoes in the dark like bomb blasts. The children can't sleep. This seems far-fetched, but a look inside one of the many shattered windows reveals scorch marks on the carpet.
"How can we raise kids here?" Shawn asks. "We can't even let them sit on the stoop. They have to stay in the kiddie pool in the back by the alley." Shawn says she looked out her kitchen window one afternoon and saw a couple of little kids pissing in the pool through the fence from the next yard over.
A storm brews, but Mona won't take sides. But in an attempt to adhere to her duties as block captain, she's signed up Shawn's two daughters for free lunches. Shawn is suspicious of the lunches, and won't let the girls eat them.
Everyone on the block knows something is going down. Details are scarce, and there are different versions of what goes on at night. This just happens to be Shawn's.
The block seems to be getting sicker, rotting from the inside in the summer heat. And the heat is relentless--humid, murky and oppressive. More windows get broken, and more boards get nailed up over broken windows.
Lamar is now controlling not only the house next to Shawn's, but the house next to that one as well. He comes and goes between them freely.
He ducks into the house two doors down, and emerges breathless, pacing in circles around parked cars. He's fixated on something in his mouth, and stares at it in the side mirror of a beat-up SUV.
He pulls his lips back, gets close to the glass and inspects his gums. After he's finished staring at whatever it is he thinks he sees, he starts to walk away from the mirror.
|Now boarding: Neighbors trashed Shawn's house, rendering it uninhabitable.|
PW's Summer Guide 2015