Vagrants are still a problem - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Vagrants are still a problem

By Jim Wallace - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) -  More proof of the dangers posed by vacant buildings- Another empty home burned in East Albany overnight.

Neighbors, firefighters, and city leaders say vagrants living in vacant homes is a troubling issue that could be deadly.

Albany city leaders have been working for several years to get rid of vacant and dilapidated buildings but with high unemployment and long term economic woes, the problem continues. And neighbors are getting frustrated.

Firefighters were called to a home on Keystone Avenue about 8PM. The house is empty, no power or water service, but neighbors say they know prostitutes and vagrants have been using it.

 "A lot of traffic be in and out late at night," Neighbor James Ballard said.

Inside the house, the floors are covered in filth. In the bedrooms are pillows and blankets, along with drug paraphernalia and used condoms and wrappers covering the floor. In the living room, a big hole has been burned in the floor, and most of the wall above it is also burned away.

 "There was a fire set on the floor and there is a blanket adjacent to that, from where it looks like someone was trying to stay warm, set a fire," Albany Fire Department Investigator Sam Harris said.

Firefighters say neighbors calling them to report smoke in the house kept the fire from spreading, but they see this vagrants in vacant homes problem getting worse, and more dangerous.

"Setting fires on floors, wooden floors. The odds are sooner or later someone is not going to wake up and they are going to die in one of these situations," Harris said.

The city has been tearing down vacant or dilapidated structures, but the legal process makes it a long, frustrating fight.

"It's not something that you can pass an ordinance Tuesday and then it be solved Friday. It's a process. You've got to go through the court system," City Commissioner Christopher Pike said.

Neighbors agree it's frustrating. "That house has been there empty just like that 12 years. Long as I been in Albany," Ballard said.

And vacant homes are not only breeding grounds for crime, but also can drive down property values. Ballard said he hopes the city can tear the fire damaged house soon.

"We in support of anything to better the community we live in. This is a pretty good street," Ballard said.

And city leaders and firefighters hope neighbors will help them, by reporting vacant properties that are being used by vagrants, before it's too late.

Firefighters say they have had fewer fires in abandoned buildings this winter than last, because the city has already torn down many of the problem structures, but it continues to be a major concern. If you want to report an empty Albany house, call 311.

The city of Albany has already demolished more than 180 homes or buildings, but still have more than 100 on the list to be demolished.

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