Stuck in Detroit: One day, five fires and one man trying to flee “this hell”

larry fire_0493Larry feels imprisoned in his diminishing slice of Detroit. The 62-year-old lives in a house no one would buy. Burglaries, drive-by shootings, rats and drug dens have chased out most people, but Larry has no money to move.

On Sunday afternoon, Larry paced outside while flames spread through four neighboring, vacant homes on the east side.

“I want to get out of Detroit, but I can’t afford to,” Larry said as firefighters hosed down a blaze next door on the 8000 bock of East Brentwood near Van Dyke and 7 Mile. “I’m trapped in this hell. I can’t even leave my house after 7 because it’s too dangerous.”

Less than an hour after firefighters left, neighbors began scavenging the charred debris for scrap metal. By the time they left, another fire broke out on the street.

No police arrived. No arson investigators. Just another day in an area all but written off by the city.

Larry neighborhood_0513Streetlights don’t work. Underground sewer lines are exposed because the manhole covers were stolen by thieves. A block away, Antwerp Avenue is impassable because garbage bags, glass and broken pieces of furniture are strewn about.

In 1988, Larry said he bought his house for $80,000.

“It was as a good place to live,” Larry said, turning his back to gusts of smoke. “Two cops lived on the street. “You had nothing to worry about.”

Now, Larry would be lucky to fetch $100 for his house. His annual home insurance? $3,000, in large because of the fires.

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com. 

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, the unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.