May 23, 2011

Opinions welcome, please

I have a quandry. I'd love your opinion.

I live in a nice middle class neighborhood. There are about 20 homes on our street, all built around the same period, all family homes and well taken care of.

Except for one.

Our neighbor, Mr. S., died three years ago. He had lived in the house with his teenage grandchildren after his wife left him and moved out of state. He was not elderly, per se, but not in good health and his death was a surprise to no one. I do not know the story of why the grandchildren lived with him.

Shortly after he died, his daughter moved back into the home. She is the single mother of the three teenagers that lived with their grandfather. I became friends with two of the grandchildren -- the oldest, a personable young man, 18, and his very sweet, very quiet sister, age 15.

The house was not kept up during Mr. S's period of declining health, but once he was gone and his daughter moved in, it went even more downhill and very quickly. To be honest, I haven't seen her in several months, so it may now be the oldest boy, now 19, his girlfriend, their baby, the teenager daughter, and I'm not sure who else living there. There are, at last count, six cars in the driveway fairly consistently.

The house is in shambles. The yard is mowed, but the weeds are taking over the edges and along the front of the house. Two weeks ago someone opened up the garage door and left it open -- and now we can all see the garbage in there that is at least six feet deep and the entire depth of the garaage. Instead of curtains, there are now sheets of various colors hung up in front of the windows. There is a portable storage unit in the driveway, but it's been there for months now. A gutter fell off in the last storm, and lays across the front of the house. The entire appearance of the house is that it is dirty and not maintained at all.

The neighbor to the immediate left of this house just got a new job in Florida and contacted a realtor to put their house on the market. We were all shocked to hear that a house that should have sold for $190,000 or more got priced at just $150,000, and they were told it was the direct result of the people next to them. That's $40,000 decline in house price, on top of the hit we've already taken because of the economy.

My neighbors up and down the street are in an uproar. In addition to our house prices going down so drastically, there is a fear of rats living in the garbage-filled garage. The house is an eye-soar in what is otherwise a nice neighborhood.  One neighbor wants to get a petition going -- though I'm not sure who this petition is to be presented. A second neighbor just called the Health Department to see if they could do anything. I don't know what the response was, only that the phone call was made. I'm a little worried that someone might get desperate enough to call Children's Services because there is a baby living in these conditions.... you know how that goes.

My question is this. I want to HELP my neighbors, but I have no idea how to go about it. I don't want them to think it's me making these phone calls, but I do want to know if there's something I can do to help. For example, I have some beautiful drapes I'm fairly sure would fit in their windows. Will they be offended if I offer? And how do I go about helping otherwise? There's a houseful of adults and friends there, it would seem patronizing of me to just go in and offer to help clean out their garage... and I have that sinking feeling that the house inside might be in the same state.

Although I knew and spoke with the grandfather, and frequently talk with the grandchildren, I don't know the single mom at all. Will she be offended at my offer to help? I just don't know. I can't imagine anyone wants to live in those conditions, but there are so many able-bodied people living there you'd think someone would have the motivation to clean the place up... you'd think...

What I'd LIKE to do is gather up the neighborhood and go visit the single mom and say, "What can we do to help?" in a caring way. What I DON'T want to do is create a situation that gives my angry neighbors an audience with the single mom, ending in a shouting match or worse.

Has anyone experienced anything like this? How do you prevent your neighborhood from going downhill? Have you ever offered to help anyone out in a similar situation?

I'd really love to know what you think.


Karen said...

Wow, Joan...what a tough one. I'm sorry to say I don't think it's going to be an easy fix. Something should be done, if not just for your housing values, but for the children living in that house. I think it might be a job for professionals.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, been there, done that!

Everybody's different and it's hard to say how your offer of help would be received.

But my guess is that they'd be glad for the help and then might become dependent upon you. I'm afraid I've become somewhat jaded due to some experiences I've had, but they're going to be mad soon enough if DHS pays them a visit.

Unfortunately our land is full of lazy people who take advantage of others' good intentions. Sheets at the windows might indicate being poor but garbage in an open garage just show laziness and lack of concern for their neighbors.

Tread carefully here or you'll end up with them cursing at you and throwing their garbage into your yard, along with obtaining several dogs for their back yard "for protection". Like I said, been there, done that.

I moved. Lost money on my house, too. Went out to the country, where I have good neighbors and lots of space between me and them, to boot. Won't move back into town, ever again, for this very reason.

The Fam said...

I think the best way to begin is to continue to try to build a relationship with them. Bring over cookies/fresh bread, strike up a conversation if they're outside, ask about mom. Casually mention that you enjoy sewing one week. The next you can let them know that you have "extra" curtains and ask if they'd like them. Does your neighborhood have a neigborhood garage sale? If you don't, you can organize one this summer, and suggest to help them.