After living almost a month in burned out public housing, Deborah Wheeler and her 10 children have a new place to live.
Housing Authority officials found Wheeler and her family a temporary home in a three-bedroom rowhouse in West Baltimore and helped them move yesterday.
Wheeler's family will be moved back to its larger rowhouse near downtown once it is renovated, Juanita Clark Harris, deputy director of the city Housing Authority, said yesterday.
Wheeler's family had lived for eight years in the rowhouse on Brentwood Avenue near Maryland Penitentiary. But her 4-year-old, playing with matches, set fire to the second and third floors Jan. 24.
Wheeler is not married and she receives welfare. After the fire, she and some of her children moved into a rowhouse next to the damaged house. Wheeler sent the remaining children to live with relatives.
Wheeler became unhappy with the cramped accommodations in the rowhouse. Then someone broke into the burned house, which still held her possessions. So she decided to move her family back into the damaged dwelling, where the only shower and toilet were on the charred second floor.
Housing Authority officials offered Wheeler two apartments in public housing projects, but she said she refused to go because of drug and crime problems at the projects.
On Tuesday, a story about her living conditions appeared in The Evening Sun. Subsequently, Wheeler said, a Housing Authority official offered her two homes in West Baltimore that were not part of crime-ridden housing projects.
She chose one in the 1400 block of N. Fulton Ave. in West Baltimore and Housing Authority employees helped her move in yesterday.
While she was moving in, Wheeler said she was pleased with in her temporary new home and decided to solve the space problem by buying bunk beds for her children with the money she expects from an insurance company.
Later yesterday afternoon, however, her pleasure dimmed when no one from the Housing Authority had arrived to install a stove or refrigerator, or to remove boards from the windows.
Bill Toohey, Housing Authority spokesman, said the appliances were delivered and the boards removed last night.
The house is in a disheveled, but quiet, block. The rowhouse has a small patch of grass in the back and poles for hanging laundry.
Harris said she does not know how long it will take to repair the burned home because the Housing Authority must take bids from contractors.
The agency offered the Fulton Avenue house after it made last-minute repairs yesterday morning, Harris said. Normally, she said, a three-bedroom unit would be too small to allow a family of 11 to move in.
But "this is a family that needs emergency housing and it will be temporary," she said.
Wheeler said she would move back to the house near the penitentiary only if she had to, because the Johnston Square neighborhood holds bad memories for her children.
Last October, she said, her brother was hit by a car and killed while walking across the Jones Falls Expressway near her Brentwood Avenue home.
Her new home, she said, "seems more settled. You can sleep here."