Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225
Two brothers still living in a condemned house in Harrisburg with no power or running water appear to be headed for the streets.
In a hearing Thursday, Magistrate Judge H. Scott Allen ordered Hubert Tanksley and Walter Tankersley – who have different spellings on their birth certificates – out of 223 Eve St. by Tuesday, or face incarceration.
Asked afterward where they will live, Tankersley responded: “In the woods.”
They were summoned to court for ignoring License and Inspection’s order to vacate, issued Sept. 22, after inspectors visited their one-story rental house and found them living in squalor, along with their sister, Rebecca Tankersley, and her three grandsons.
Responding to complaints of a foul odor and an extension cord running from one house to another, inspectors found jars of urine and a bag of feces in the house, a damaged bathroom floor, a sagging ceiling, and more feces and buckets of urine in the backyard. The house was also roach-infested and so crammed with furniture and junk that it created a fire hazard.
Rebecca Tankersley, who rented the house from insurance salesman John B. Weigle Jr., for $550 per month, told the city that she fell behind on utility payments while hospitalized for three weeks after suffering a heart attack. She has pancreatitis and diabetes, her sister told The Augusta Chronicle, and has been living off Social Security payments to two of her grandsons who are mentally disabled.
The week of the condemnation, Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile told the family to leave immediately and have their things out that Friday, but the house has continued to bustle with people.
The renter was not in court Thursday because she was hospitalized at University Hospital when code enforcement issued citations. She and her grandsons, ages 21, 16 and 15, are staying at her sister’s two-bedroom trailer in south Augusta, according to another relative.
The brothers’ court-appointed attorney, Chris Hudson, told Judge Allen that they would agree to leave Eve Street next week in exchange for suspended sentences.
“Ultimately, they’re both destitute,” the lawyer said. “They’re poor.”
The judge agreed to issue 60-day probated sentences and not impose fines, but he said if they’re caught at the house after the deadline, he might not go so easy on them.
“Understand, when I say vacate, that means you leave,” Judge Allen said. “You do not come back.”
Hudson asked whether the brothers could have extra time to get their things out of the house, which the judge rejected. He said he read in news accounts that they have a large family, which could help them, and there are outreach organizations in Harrisburg.
“My understanding is that many of your neighbors would be happy to help them move,” the judge said.
Mayoral candidate Lori Davis, who attended the hearing along with fellow Harrisburg activist Butch Palmer, said few people in the neighborhood sympathize with the family because of the nuisance they’ve caused – such as cars and people constantly coming and going, junk in the yard and men milling about. When she sued Weigle in Magistrate Court earlier this year, she called it a “known neighborhood drug house,” though the family strongly denies that.
“They have terrorized this neighborhood,” Davis said.
When her case went before another Magistrate judge in the same courtroom in May, Weigle said under oath that he checked on the house frequently and “would be glad” to have the tenants living next door to him in Forest Hills. However, since the condemnation he has filed eviction papers of his own, saying his renters are behind $320.
Now that they have to be out in five days, the brothers living in the woods or under a bridge is a real possibility, their younger brother Roosevelt Tanksley said Thursday.
Both men came to court walking with canes. Tanksley, 63, has said he suffers from bronchitis and prostate cancer and receives disability checks. Tankersley, 61 – who tucked his cane under his arm and kept walking once he was out of the courthouse – has said he has an injured hip and shoulder.
The family is having a hard enough time finding a place large enough and cheap enough to accommodate his sister and the three boys, Roosevelt Tanksley said. If the men wind up in homeless shelters, they’ll have nowhere to put their belongings.
“They’ll still lose everything they have,” their brother said, “because they won’t have anywhere to put everything.”
Fran Oliver, the executive director of Harrisburg’s Mercy Ministries, said she and her assistant director are still looking all over, trying to find Rebecca Tankersley, 53, and her three grandsons a place they can afford. She’s also hoping they can obtain emergency rapid rehousing stimulus funds to help with the deposit and first month’s rent.
“The truth is, this is not an isolated incident,” Oliver said. “We don’t have a lot of low-income housing, and people often have to choose between paying their rent or paying their utilities.”
As for the brothers, Hubert Tanksley, 63, and Walter Tankersley, 61, they have the option of going to the Salvation Army or Garden City Rescue Mission homeless shelters, in addition to the day shelter at Mercy Ministries.
Garden City volunteer Abe Frazier said there are 50 beds at the shelter, and there hasn’t been much trouble with overcrowding lately. The elderly and the disabled are given preference, and men can stay for up to 90 days.
“I’d suggest they get here about 3 o’clock and sign the list early,” he said. “That may give them a better chance of having a bed, because it’s first come-first serve.”
– Johnny Edwards