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Drug-user house is destroyed

Inmates serving time at a work-release center on drug charges Thursday tore down a Harrison Street house that police suspected was a haven for drug users. It was part of a statewide program in which the state Department of Corrections (DOC) offers cities inmate labor to destroy houses where drug-related crimes are frequent, said Sgt. Randel Smith of the DOC.

Most of the inmates who tear down the houses are serving time for drug charges, Smith said. "That's the whole idea. They created these houses, so let them tear them down."

Police have identified 13 such houses in Tarpon Springs, said Building Director Dave Christiansen. Three weeks ago, five inmates tore down the first house, at 509 S Disston Ave.

"It's a team effort to rid the city of the houses the drug people use," Christiansen said. "Somebody can get hurt in them. They cause a hazard to the community as a whole."

The one-bedroom house at 217 Harrison St. had been vacant for eight years, said owner Bertha Brown, who lives next door. Before the all-day demolition, screens dangled from the front door and the windows were empty of panes. Termites lived in the rotted walls.

Brown said she bought the home 15 years ago so she could add to her half-lot of property. A succession of people lived there until 1982, when it became vacant. Brown had to live in a nursing home for a while after that, and she said the medical bills prevented her husband, Andrew, from refurbishing the house.

"It really needed to be torn down," she said Thursday. "It was in too bad a shape to remodel it."

Police and building officials said the destruction was a cooperative effort to help rid the city of drug users and dealers.

The program works like this: Police give building officials a list of dilapidated houses they suspect are used by drug dealers. Inspectors note safety violations and tell the owners to fix things or sign the building over to the city. Owners give their permission to the Department of Corrections to tear down their houses.