BY JEFF DEENEY
TODAY I SAW a mountain of garbage stacked on the flat landing outside the front doors to Mantua Hall. There were bags filled with rotting garbage and piles of discarded clothes. There were bed mattresses tossed at angles on top of all the bags. There was busted up furniture pushed to the edges of the pile and left to soak in the rain. It was impossible to tell if the trash heap was a sign of progress or regress; these could be things discarded by families moving to new Section 8 housing in advance of the high rise’s demolition or they could be belongings hauled from still full apartments by PHA maintenance staff after a family’s eviction.
I was out at Mantua Hall with the Church Lady today. She belongs to a congregation in Southwest Philly that does ministry work with the homeless and hopeless almost every day of the week. Her church cooks meals that parishioners distribute on the streets and has a network of Jesus-centered recovery homes for addicts and drunks. She wears stern skirts that come to her ankles and usually has her blouse buttoned to the top button. When her cell phone rings she flips the top open and says with the same tone an office secretary might use to greet a client with an appointment,
“Praise the Lord.”
You’d think the Tre Six boys would grant the Church Lady safe passage but Mantua Hall makes no promises. She tells a story about one time she came here and fled in a panic after her car was swarmed by project boys.
“They pressed up all around the car, a big group of young boys. This one started banging on my window and asking me for the time. I told him the time through the window without rolling it down because I was concerned but he kept asking me like he couldn’t hear me. He heard me; he was trying to get me to roll my window down for some reason. They were waiting for me to get out of the car. So I pulled out and left, I didn’t even make it in the building. I was scared to death, believe me.”
This time the steps leading to the front door had been cleared of any loiterers by a driving rain. Inside things were quiet; a group of PHA staff was talking about taking an inventory of the apartments to see which were empty and which were still occupied. I imagine they want to have as much of the heavy lifting done as possible well in advance of the implosion clearing out old furniture left behind by tenants and making sure all units are vacated.
The Mantua Hall maintenance man’s name is Duane and he’s built like an NFL defensive lineman with a Muslim’s beard, shaved head and Dickies work pants rolled up above the ankles in accordance with Islamic dress codes. After sending off the pack of PHA managers he greeted a Muslim woman who was garbed up to the eyeballs; she drifted in after us and disappeared into the laundry room without saying a word.
There were flyers tacked up all over the lobby, in the elevator and on the walls of the hallways upstairs announcing townhall style meetings in the weeks to come where real estate agents will come to Mantua Hall to talk about available listings for Section 8 houses and apartments. Some families have already begun their housing search and are excited to soon leave the dingy, desperate purgatory of the high rise behind.