This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Daily News on June 21, 1999.
Disaster can bring out the best and the worst in people.
Last week, the best of human nature prevailed as friends and neighbors rushed to assist the families evicted from their sinking homes in Wissinoming.
By week’s end, city officials had condemned 16 houses in the area bounded by Devereaux Avenue and Hegerman, Vandike, and Benner Streets.
At first it looked as if the families faced financial ruin, because the city refused to offer more than emergency relocation expenses.
But City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski wouldn’t stand for it. Thanks in large part to Krajewski’s efforts in City Hall and in Harrisburg, the owners of the condemned houses will be fully compensated.
It was Krajewski who persuaded Mayor Rendell to reopen the books on the 1996-97 sewer construction project the homeowners believe is the cause of the structural problems plaguing their properties.
The gruff-voiced Krajewski spent hours on the phone daily with State Reps. George McGheehan and John Perzel, who by week’s end had come up with the $1.25 million in state funds to help the Wissinoming homeowners.
Krajewski kept a daily vigil in the parking lot outside the local recreation center, from 8 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m., comforting the dispossessed and ensuring that the bureaucracy responded as quickly and compassionately as possible to their needs, no matter how small.
She left only after her job was done. Krajewski was one of many heroes and heroines on the scene in Wissinoming last week. Here are a few others:
Georgette Shay, 32, lives with her parents in the house where she was born on Hegerman Street, between Devereaux Avenue and Benner Street. The tiny rowhouse that is their major asset may not be condemned, but it has been hurt just the same.
Still Shay, who recently lost her job because her employer went bankrupt, shook off her personal worries and went to work helping her displaced neighbors.
When it looked like at least seven families would lose their homes without compensation, Shay organized a petition drive to demand the city make up for their losses.
By last Friday, Shay and her helpers had collected nearly 7,000 signatures. Said Shay: “I’ll fight for anybody that’s not getting a fair shake.”
The petitions will be given to Krajewski to deliver to Rendell this week. “We want to keep the pressure on,” Shay says.
Dolores Ungaro, who also lives on the so-called safe side of the 6100 block of Hegerman, wasted no time in setting up a relief fund for her neighbors. Ungaro, an employee of First Union National Bank, got the bank to set up an account to accept donations to help the owners of the sinking homes. The Hegerman Street Relief Fund had received $1,700 by last Friday.
Ungaro and Andrew Sicinski, owner of Fathead’s Bar & Restaurant, have formed a committee to organize more fund-raisers. The first will be held next Sunday at Comedy Cabaret, 11580 Roosevelt Blvd. Tickets are $20 and can be obtained at the Cabaret or Fathead’s, Torresdale, and Devereaux Avenues.
Sicinski has treated the displaced families to free meals at his bar since the evacuation. Homeowners also have Sicinski to thank for putting them in touch with their lawyer, Gerard Schotzbarger.
Postal carrier Michael Cifelli has delivered mail to the residents on Hegerman and nearby streets for 10 years. “You get to know people, especially in the summer,” Cifelli says. “There’s always that much-needed drink of water.”
To repay the block’s many kindnesses, Cifelli is footing the bill for post office boxes for 12 families evacuated from Hegerman Street for as long as they need them. The boxes cost $12 a month each.
“It’s not much, but it is one less thing they’ll have to worry about,” Cifelli says.
Deputy L & I Commissioner Robert Solvibile Sr. is the top L&I official on the scene every day, overseeing the condemnation and demolition. But more than once, Solvibile provided a comforting hand or hug for homeowners overwhelmed by the situation.
“He’s been very nice and seems really concerned,” said George Michell, 75, a Devereaux resident who got the news his house will be torn down Friday.
For Solvibile, who has been at L&I for nearly 30 years, this is a conflicting time. “I go home at night and I can’t sleep thinking about what we’re doing to these people,” Solvibile says.