Dozens of boys left to flush toilets with buckets at juvenile detention facility as problems knock off water supply

Baltimore City crews repair a water main break on Leeds Avenue on Jan. 4.
Baltimore City crews repair a water main break on Leeds Avenue on Jan. 4. (Libby Solomon / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Dozens of boys at a state detention center in Baltimore County went days without showers and flushed toilets with buckets after water service in the facility was cut off, as water customers throughout the region dealt with frozen pipes and meters.

An “off-site water line issue” began causing problems in the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School on Sunday, said Jay Cleary, chief of staff for the state Department of Juvenile Services. There are currently 58 youths housed there.


The boys went three days without showers, and the boys’ bathroom use was monitored, said Mary Siegfried, supervisor of the juvenile division of the office of the public defender in Montgomery County, which sends defendants to the state facility in Baltimore County.

“You can imagine how it starts to smell,” Siegfried said.


The Department of Juvenile Services “can’t control the water main getting fixed,” Siegfried said. “But what is in their control is moving these children out of these horrid conditions.”

Baltimore and Baltimore County, which both receive water from Baltimore’s Department of Public Works, have suffered more than 100 broken water mains — with 90 still broken as of Tuesday afternoon — and reports of 1,800 customers without water amid the recent long bout of freezing weather.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the department, said it hasn’t confirmed that the cold was responsible for the problems at the Hickey School.

Cleary said the department immediately provided clean drinking water for the facility and water that could be used to flush toilets and brush teeth. He said food service was not affected.


“The essential needs were being addressed,” Cleary said, so there was no need to send the boys elsewhere.

Public works crews were working to restore service. Cleary said a water truck arrived at the facility Tuesday afternoon “to provide showers for the youth at the facility and will continue to provide water for hygiene moving forward.”

Legal advocates for the boys and a state watchdog said they would continue to monitor the situation.

Stephen Bergman, acting director of the Juvenile Protection Division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, called the outage “a major problem.”

“It’s a potential health risk so we’re obviously concerned for the safety of our clients,” he said. The Department of Juvenile Services “is not in charge of the water, but they are in charge of these kids.”

Bergman said he planned to visit the facility Wednesday. The attorney general’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit sent a representative to Hickey Tuesday upon learning of the problems.

“It’s a pretty regrettable situation and it’s especially regrettable that it’s been going on for a few days,” the unit’s director, Nick Moroney, said. “Obviously, the kids and staff need water, and DJS is doing what they can to supply it.”

Problems continued elsewhere in the city and the county. The Department of Public Works has needed to replace 888 water meters since Jan. 1, Raymond said, and the majority remain outstanding. In some cases the department can bypass the meter to restore service, but other customers will have to wait for a replacement.

Raymond wouldn’t say when the work might be finished, but said crews were aiming to resolve problems before icy weather returns this weekend.

“We are continuing to try to move faster and I think that now the weather has broken and we’re hopefully through the worst of the additional water main breaks we can move faster to get to the ones that are out there,” he said.

Sheila Bates said she and her neighbors in Federal Hill have all been without water since Dec. 31. Bates, 28, said calls to the public works department and to their councilman, Eric Costello, haven’t yielded much help.

Over the weekend, she said, Public Works dug a “huge hole” in the parking lot where they said they identified a leak. She said they filled in the hole, left, and never returned. The water remained off.

“Every time they say that they’re gonna come out they don’t come out,” she said. “They were supposed to come yesterday. Never came.”

Bates said she’s bought bottled water, showered at the gym, and done laundry at the laundromat. A nurse who works at night, she said it’s been difficult to make alternate sleeping arrangements. On Tuesday morning her basement flooded.

“Water keeps coming up,” Bates said. Costello said he spent 45 minutes helping pump the basement Tuesday — just one of 300 calls for help he’s had from constituents.

Robbie Helsing, 56, first noticed her water was off Sunday morning. After three days of showering at the gym and relying on bottled water from the supermarket, the Pigtown woman has grown frustrated with the city response.

Helsing, a political consultant in Washington, said she has received no information on when her service might be restored.

“It’s just ridiculous that they have no accountability to the community,” she said.

A chlorine pumping station near Lake Ashburton in Northwest Baltimore leaked chlorine gas early Wednesday, while a separate broken water main across Longwood Street coated a sidewalk with ice, requiring water to be shut off in the area.

The Department of Public Works serves about 400,000 customers in Baltimore and Baltimore County. The department is responsible for all infrastructure up to and including the water meter. Beyond that, property owners must resolve problems themselves. The department’s principal advice for customers is to leave a trickle of water running to prevent pipes from freezing.

City 311 records show 1,200 people have reported water outages since the start of the year. Many live in Southeast Baltimore.

Councilman Zeke Cohen, who represents the area, says he’s been in almost constant communication with constituents and the public works department.

“It has been systemic and not just a bunch of one-offs,” Cohen said.

In general, he said, city employees have been working hard to tackle problems.

“There were multiple people without water for extended periods of time,” Cohen said. “It was incredibly frustrating, but at the same time I will say there are some real hard-working people in the Department of Transportation and Department of Public Works especially who were working 24 hours.”

Other council members said the public works department has been staying on top of problems.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents parts of North and Central Baltimore, said she’s received dozens of messages from constituents without water. She said the city was working as fast as it can to restore service.

“At the beginning of this, public works was overwhelmed with 311 service requests,” she said. Now, she said, “they seem to have it organized.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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