New Castle News

December 13, 2012

Tent City fire forces homeless migration

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — About 10 homeless men have scattered from Tent City after their campsite went up in flames.

Angela Hagberg of Patches Place, a local mental health agency that reaches out to the homeless, said the fire occurred Friday afternoon or evening at the fenced-in encampment behind Cascade Galleria.

She said the men who had lived in Tent City told her a man had dumped kerosene over all their donated belongings — tents, mattresses, pillows, blankets, clothing, food and other items — and set fire to them.

Recent publicity about the outdoor homeless refuge had prompted generous contributions of goods and supplies from the community, Hagberg said.

“We started getting all of these really great donations,” she said, including truckloads of wood the men would use for campfires to keep warm.

Among the donations was a kerosene heater.

“A guy went back there and poured the kerosene from the heater onto everything the men owned,” Hagberg said. “The guys there think they know who did it, but they don’t know why.”

She said the suspected arsonist is someone who did not live in the encampment, and she does not know his identity. She said the New Castle police were contacted Friday night to investigate.

“There is a suspect,” Police Chief Bobby Salem said, but no charges have been filed. He said the investigation is ongoing.

On Saturday, Patches Place representatives took a tent that sleeps eight to 10 people to Tent City replace some of those that had burned. It also donated a couple of mattresses and blankets it had in reserve.

Meanwhile, Hagberg arranged for a couple of the men to stay elsewhere.

“Some of them are afraid to stay there now,” she said, “and they are afraid to take their newly donated belongings there because they fear it will happen again.”

The men staying in one area had a tent they had used to store all their donated items and food. That, too, is gone.

“There’s nothing left,” Hagberg said. “Everything is destroyed.”

Patches Place had managed to get some of the people out of Tent City in the weeks before the fire because cold weather was setting in, Hagberg said.

Those people are in Section 8 housing, the City Rescue Mission, an independent apartment and a Human Services Center-owned residence, she said.

But Hagberg noted about five homeless men are staying in different areas of the downtown since the fire.

“One guy stays by the church by Burger King but keeps getting arrested,” she said. “Other people stay in the streets around town.”

Kevin Green, City Rescue Mission director, declined comment Wednesday about any accommodations available at his 100-bed shelter for the displaced campers.

Patches Place is continuing its mission to help the homeless, providing tents, bedding, shelter, firewood, food and other items.

Hagberg said that Ron Howard, one of the displaced campers, expressed his appreciation to the community for the items the homeless inhabitants have received through contributions.

Donations are being accepted at the Highland Avenue agency by calling Hagberg at (724) 657-0226, extension 401, during the day.

Hagberg stressed Patches Place does not accept — and has never accepted — cigarettes or alcohol as contributions.

Acceptable donations include sanitary wipes, cots, tents, blankets, pillows, sheets, tarps, meals, meal kits, canned and packaged and ready-to-eat food, bottled water and other non-alcoholic beverages, firewood, men’s clothing in sizes large, extra-large or bigger, and shoes.

Hagberg also recommended people not try to visit Tent City on their own with donations, for safety reasons.