Poverty Kills. Again

"The world is a vampire, sent to drain
Secret destroyers hold you up to the flames..." Smashing Pumpkins.

On the night of April 1, fire destroyed a wood frame house at 1138 Whitesboro Street in Utica, NY that served as a group home for eight people with mental and physical disabilities. Two escaped with their lives, and the clothes on their backs.

In a USA Today story, Fire Chief Russell Brooks said the home was "not inspected for several years." Somehow the house had fallen under the radar. It was classified as a hotel/motel, when in fact it was a rooming house.

Although smoke detectors are required in every bedroom, not all the bedrooms had smoke detectors installed, and several had dead batteries.

County, state social service and mental health officials do not regulate the home.

"Neither the 1138 Whitesboro St. residence nor other rooming-type homes in the neighborhood owned by Donna Marano of Cold Brook are licensed formally as group homes," Oneida County Social Services Commissioner Lucille A. Soldato said. (Utica Observer-Dispatch)

The people living in the group home might have been part of the Utica Rescue Mission's representative payee program.

Under the Representative Payment Program SSA can authorize certain types of organizations to collect a fee from a beneficiary's monthly social security check for providing representative payee services. These organizations are called "fee for service" (FFS) representative payees. FFS payees receive $35 per client as of December 2007, or $68 per client for individuals with a DAA (drug and alcohol addiction) condition. The fee does not include annual cost of living adjustments effective in January 2008. source: www.ssa.gov/payee.
The house was located a block away from the Utica State Hospital for the Mentally Ill, on a street with several such group homes.
Three people lived on the first floor, and five on the second. Four of them died in the fire, and one is hospitalized, with burn injuries.

One of the victims, was from the Albany area. The body of Nick Roberts, 42, is being returned to Albany for burial this week.

Marie Fleischer, 75, also died after firefighters rescued her from the burning building.

Two others perished in the fire. The body of Michael Mallace, 42, was found after the fire was extinguished. Jonathan Rebeck, 59, remained unaccounted for and is believed to have died in the fire, according to a story in the Albany Times-Union.

Another resident was taken to Upstate Medical Center's burn facility in Syracuse.

The Utica Observer Dispatch called it the worst fire in seventeen years. It is being investigated as a possible arson.

Marano, the building owner, said the two-story house served as a group home for disabled, formerly homeless, and "troubled" residents. "They had nowhere else to go," she told the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

Fire didn't kill these people. Disabilities didn't kill them. Addictions didn't kill them.

Poverty killed them. They are casualities of America's class war.

Rest in peace, precious ones.

Update: William Brooks, 48, was released from the Syracuse hospital on Friday.

Attribution: This post was cobbled together with information gathered from local, state, and national news reports: USA Today, the Albany Times-Union, The Utica Observer-Dispatch and information provided on the Social Security Administration's website. Although writing these stories is as natural as breathing to me, I have to support myself with wage slave jobs...I do what I can with the time and resources allotted to me.

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