Addicts and their refuse make park a dangerous playground


As Sheldon Taft and his three brothers watched yesterday, city workers harvested bloody syringes and empty crack cocaine viles from the park near Gold and Brunt streets in West Baltimore's Upton neighborhood.

Sheldon is 11, and his brothers are 10, 9, and 8 years old. As the workers removed the syringes, the boys expressed their frustration with living in a neighborhood that has been ravaged by drugs.

Addicts have taken over the park, located next to the Greater Temple of Praise Apostolic Church. Two years ago, the city removed the backboards in the park's basketball court to discourage the drug abusers from congregating there. But the addicts did not leave and the neighborhood children have been forced to play ball on the sidewalks and in the streets.

"Tell them [city officials] to put back the basketball hoops. We want to play," said Sheldon Taft. His brother, Tyree, 9, said the cleanup effort was futile.

"They'll be back later today," said Tyree, adding that the neighborhood youngsters got so angry with the junkies Saturday that they stood at the park's fence and tossed rocks and bottles at them.

"We wanted to come over and play, but they still wouldn't leave. They was cussing and calling us names," Tyree said. "They always scream at us and tell us to go out front and watch for police. They offer to give us $1 to go somewhere else."

The city may even take more drastic action to discourage drug abusers from using the park. A city parks official said the park benches may be removed to make the park less comfortable for the junkies.

While the cleanup was in progress, a 24-year-old man, an admitted heroin user, explained why junkies congregate in the park. He said drug users do not have to pay to shoot up in the park, and there is a $2 fee to use drugs in houses known as shooting galleries.

Are the addicts concerned about the children who've lost their park?

"With the disease we have, we don't feel bad about the kids," the man explained, adding: "When you have a drug habit, we shoot to feel normal."

Discarded syringes have become a nuisance and a potential public health problem in many areas of the city.

When city workers clean up the syringes, they must wear rubber gloves and steel-toed boots. The workers use rakes, shovels and even air blower machines "so that we don't have to reach down and come in contact with the waste," said Ed Johnson, a city recreation and parks Official.

Dorothy Lewis, a city Health Department spokeswoman, said discarded syringes in parks and other areas are a growing problem.

"One-third of the needles still have blood on them," said Ms. Lewis, who collects the discarded needles that are ultimately sent to a medical waste landfill.

Last week, the city Office of Occupational Medicine and Safety sponsored a two-day seminar to teach city workers how to avoid being infected with AIDS- or hepatitis-infected needles.

The seminar was attended by about 75 workers including police officers, firefighters, housing inspectors and city health-care workers, said David Rule, the deputy director of the city agency.

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