Mother, children remain homeless following Sept. 20 standoff
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org September 26, 2013 7:22PM
Residents of this southside Waukegan apartment house in the 300 block of George Avenue were left homeless after a police standoff on Sept. 20. Most windows in the now-boarded-up three-flat are broken and the house must be professionally cleaned of tear-gas residue. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2013 7:06AM
Families that once called a Southside Waukegan three-flat their home had to hurry up and find somewhere else to live after a day-long police standoff on Sept. 20.
During the standoff, which started with a report of domestic violence and a man with a gun and ended in the arrest of a Donald Palmer, who was on parole from state prison, police broke many of the windows in the three-story apartment house in the 300 block of George Avenue and shot tear gas inside.
A statement issued by police on Sept. 21 said the apartments “were rendered temporarily uninhabitable” and that work to decontaminate the structure had begun and was expected to be completed by the end of the day.
But the work hasn’t begun. The house sits boarded up, most of its windows still broken.
Meanwhile, a woman and her two school-aged children were left homeless. Tenants of the other two apartments could not be reached.
While the city put the mother and children in a hotel the first night, social service agencies, which supplied several more charity vouchers, scrambled to find the family a more permanent solution. Lake County PADS Director Joel Williams said the family showed up at the PADS headquarters in North Chicago on Tuesday.
“These are people who can’t return home and have no other resources available to them,” Williams said.
To complicate matters, the woman, who has since found temporary shelter at A Safe Place shelter, started a new job on Tuesday.
“She can’t miss work to navigate a system that, frankly, she shouldn’t have to navigate through,” Williams said. “The city should live up to its responsibility.”
“I’m not sure I disagree,” said Waukegan Police spokesman Sgt. David DeBaufer. “But at what point is the city responsible? Do we continue to use taxpayer dollars to pay for housing because a landlord decides he doesn’t want to do the right thing? It’s a tough situation. We have to balance our responsibility and fiscal responsibility.”
DeBaufer said that Aurora-based Aftermath Inc., which specializes in crime and trauma scene cleanup, was called in, but that the building owner balked at the estimate. According to the Aftermath Web site, tear gas, which contains substances that irritate mucus membranes, can continue to cause irritation and breathing difficulty months after it’s used if the site’s not properly decontaminated.
The owner, according to tax records, is Somy Achettu of Glenview.
Achettu could not be reached for comment.
DeBaufer said city Building Commissioner Dave Marion is working with the owner to come to a resolution. Marion did not return a call seeking comment.
Emergency housing in the county is tight, said Williams. PADS’ overnight shelter season starts Oct. 1.
“This is a woman who has been paying her rent,” he said. “And due to a circumstance you read about in the paper, she’s in this horrible situation.”
According to the online White Pages, between six and eight people lived at the three-flat. Police said an older man and his grown son fled the building early on after the standoff began. Several neighbors who live near the house said on Wednesday they had no clue where the residents had gone.
Waukegan 1st Ward Alderman Sam Cunningham said a plan for remediation is in the works. He urged the former residents to contact him or the city for a list of available rentals.
“Unfortunately this is a matter between the tenants and the landlord,” Cunningham said. “It’s similar to a flood. As far as the city’s responsibility, we don’t get involved.”
In a Sept. 8 standoff on the city’s west side, SWAT teams and armored vehicles also rolled in to surround the Berwick Apartments building, but no tear gas was used, DeBaufer said.
“Windows were broken, but the building manager boarded them up and they have since been replaced,” he said.