City housing officials knocked at Louise and James Alan's door Monday and told them they had two hours to move out of the apartment they had lived in for 27 years.
The Alans slowly and quietly moved about their tiny two-room apartment in Northwest Washington, gathering their clothes from closets and stuffing them into large plastic trash bags, and placing their other possessions - an alarm clock, dishes, silverware, pictures - into large boxes.
James Alan, 57, did most of the packing. Louise Alan, 64, needs crutches to walk.
Almost immediately, workers from the city's housing department loaded the furniture onto a truck and drove it away.
Bag by bag and box by box, James Alan moved the other belongings into the backyard of their row houses at 1325 Riggs St. NW.Then the Alans sat outside on aluminum chairs the entire afternoon, talking to their friends and wondering aloud where they were moving to.
"I don't know which street it's on," Louise Alan said. "Do you know?" she asked her husband. He said he didn't.
Meanwhile, city workmen built layer after layer of cinder blocks into the doorways and windows of the home the Alans had lived in for nearly three decades. As the blocks went up, the Alans and their friends watched.
The Alans lived in one of four boarded-up, city-owned row houses on the block. For the last two years, addicts have been going into some of the apartments there to inject themselves with heroin. The Alans paid the city $40 a month for their first-floor apartment.
After a story in Sunday's Washington Post reported that addicts were using the row houses as "shooting galleries," city housing officials swept through the row houses, telling the three remaining tenants they were being evicted immediately and would be moved to new homes.
"I was here for 27 years and I know I'll miss it," said James Alan. "It all happened so fast."
Alan spent most of his life installing air conditioners. But several years ago he retired after he had a heart attack.
Two women sitting with the Alans, Lila James, 46, and Brenda Knight, 31, had lived in the row houses years ago, before crowds of youths began loitering on nearby street corners, dealing in drugs. James and Knight moved away in the early '70s, when the city acquired the row houses. But they still visited their former neighbors, the Alans, and refer to them as "Mama" and "Dad".
"Mama and Dad will be further away now, but as long as my husband got a car, it don't matter," said Knight. "I'll still visit them and help them with their shopping and cleaning."
The Alans said the city had been promising to relocate them for years. "They were trying to find us a place on the first floor (of another building) because my wife had a stroke and can't walk too much," Alan said. "They just couldn't find us a place."
On Monday evening, a social worker drove the Alans to their new apartment in a senior citizens center at 635 Edgewood St. NE. Their one-bedroom apartment is on the fifth floor of an elevator building.
City housing officials also evicted and relocated the one other tenant who was living in the city-owned row houses. The tenant, Joshua Jackson of 1321 Riggs St. NW, lived in the same building where a squatter named Linwood Thompson charged heroin users $1 for the right to sit down and shoot up. About 50 heroin users streamed in and out of Thompson's apartment each day and night.
Occasionally, heroin users also injected themselves in the vacant apartments upstairs from the Alans, according to Louise Alan and Knight.
"We'd hear them going upstairs," Alan said. "We didn't bother with them."
Housing officials said they tried to keep heroin users out of the row houses by nailing boards over the vacant apartments. But the heroin users kept taking the board down.
"The only way we can really board up and brick up the house solid is to get everyone out of the building, even the regular tenants," said Robert L. Moore, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development. "Otherwise, we don't know whether the people coming in and out of there are strangers or tenants."
Moore said electricity, gas and water services in the row houses have been shut off now that the tenants have been evicted. Heroin users had been using stoves in the vacant apartments to heat their drug solutions.
"As long as lights were on, and the water was on, people could use those buildings," Moore said. "People could have started fires in there."
The row houses will be rehabilitated by a nonprofit agency within the next year and then sold, according to Saul Finn, one of the housing department's directors.
In addition to sealing the windows and doors of the four row houses with blocks, city workmen plastered boards over the doors. Signs on the boards declare, "No Trespassing" and "Property of the Department of Housing and Community Development."
Mayor Marion Barry said Monday he was surprised tenants were living in the row houses.
"I don't understand why they were in there in those substandard houses in the first place," Barry said. "We have to do more inspecting of vacant property."
The Alans spent yesterday in their clean, new apartment on Edgewood Street. They pay $38 a month rent for their apartment, which has a view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol.
Despite the trauma of being uprooted from their home of 27 years, the Alans said yesterday that they were happy with their new home. "That other place was a dump," James Alan said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Louise and James Alan wait outside their Riggs Street NW home for workers to move them to a new apartment. By Joe Heiberger - The Washington Post. Picture 2, A worker fills windows of Riggs Street NW row houses which District official ordered sealed. By Joe Heiberger - The Washington Post