An electrical fire in the basement of the Rip Van Winkle Apartments could “temporarily displace more than 300 residents living in the City of Poughkeepsie apartments,” said the Poughkeepsie Journal this Monday. The city fire department received a call at 3:40 p.m. Monday reporting the transformer fire that which caused smoke damage throughout the building.
The fire “burned itself out” around 4:15, Poughkeepsie fire chief Mark Johnson said. No one was injured.
Since then, the residents of the 17-story structure are now officially considered homeless, said city council chair Natasha Cherry.
Councilman Chris Petsas of the First Ward posted a Facebook message: “Update for residents of Rip Van Winkle, which has been without power since 5 p.m. yesterday. Chris Petsas just got off phone with city administrator. Building residents must be evacuated by 5 p.m. today. Red Cross, city government, county government, other agencies all working together. Shelter at Mid-Hudson Civic Center tonight. Maybe a weeklong ordeal for residents. Will keep posting updates here on FB as I get them.”
City resident Angelique Johnson joined in on Facebook. “Re food and clothes donations. And since y’all so proud to be Christians, be Christians. Yes, we have a major heroin epidemic. Yes, there’s a lot of drug traffic stemming from the building, so much so, the police have a permanent presence. But there are also a lot of people who can’t afford to move because they’re too broke, too old or both.”
The information about the building fire caused quite the uproar on social media, with some people saying things like “Throw the bums out,” and “They should burn the place down.”
For many residents, the structure is seen as the epitome of Poughkeepsie’s urban housing woes. It is rumored to be the headquarters of major gang operations and a hub for heroin distribution in the city. Since at least summer, the city police have maintained a presence at the building, including an active-duty officer parked outside at all times.
Mayor Rob Rolison issued a statement yesterday saying that the building was unsafe and that a temporary shelter had been set-up at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center by the American Red Cross. Accommodations for busing of schoolchildren has been arranged. Landlord PK Management would distribute free parking permits provided by the city to the homeless.
A Halloween parade for the children who wish to participate had been arranged, and was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on that day in front of the Civic Center.
The tenants have been told that the building is uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. They have been allowed to return to retrieve personal effects. Management allowed residents to enter the building today between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to get more belongings. Residents had to sign in and out of the building.
A local lawmaker who did not want to be identified by name said he/she expected that repairs would never happen. “The place will be deemed condemned and sold as is,” the lawmaker predicted. “Remember, you heard it here first …. Rip Van Winkle doesn’t fit into the plans for that section of Poughkeepsie.”
That lawmaker was perhaps a bit rash. By Nov. 15, tenants had returned to their apartments, though many continued to have recurring problems with their heaters.
Updated on Dec. 18, 2017.