Roxborough apartment fire ignites controversy

July 15, 2009 2:55:36 PM PDT
Late Wednesday afternoon investigators confirmed that arson was to blame for a fire that destroyed part of a Roxborough apartment complex. Residents say they're not surprised something like this happened. A psychiatric treatment organization has leased approximately 17 units in the apartment complex to house an estimated 35-40 who have been diagnosed with psychiatric and in some cases drug abuse problems.

Residents say it has not been a good mix.

"One day something really bad could happen here. And we stressed our concern to a lot of people."

John O'Malley has been warning people for weeks he feared one of the mentally ill patients housed in the apartment complex might do something dangerous.

Now, authorities say last night's arson was set by a young female client of Project Transition - a Chalfont-based organization that places individuals who have been diagnosed with serious psychiatric problems in apartments.

Its website emphasizes its on-site support and self management. But other residents say oversight seems weak and once staff leaves for the day clients behavior can be unnerving.

Samantha Goldfarb spoke about her interactions with Project Transition clients, saying, "They made comments to me, like sexual comments - aggressive comments. One day they stood behind my car so I couldn't leave. It was really scary."

"I have seen people walking around like they're medicated and out of it," said Carolyn Dancy. "

Velma Baylor tells Action News, "They are out there 2-3 o'clock in the morning and they're transacting some kind of business."

Neighbors say the young woman at the center of the arson probe was recovering from an attempt to slash her wrists several days ago.

Kelly Broderick told Action News what she saw Tuesday night: "For a couple of minutes she had just been sitting there acting really strange. And then she started picking out her stitches on the sidewalk and then the next thing you know there's cops all over her and her whole entire arm is completely bloody."

Project Transition declined an on camera interview. Its executive director said via telephone he could not comment on any specific complaints. The management company refused all questions. Residents just want some assurances clients will be watched more carefully.

Kelly Broderick summed up what many residents feel by saying, "They are deliberately setting fires and they're putting everybody who lives here in terrible danger."

Project Transition says it has been successfully operating for 27 years. It has similar halfway houses in other apartment complexes in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The executive director confirmed that staff is on-site during the day and depart at night. He says he's pretty comfortable with that, though many residents at Henry on the Park are not at all comfortable with the current situation.