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Everhart family perseveres in the face of blighted neighborhood, drugs: A Greater Cleveland

December 29, 2017

Everhart family perseveres in the face of blighted neighborhood, drugs: A Greater Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Tiffany Everhart dreams of becoming a scientist. This is a dream about the future, a 10-year-old’s vision of a prosperous life, though this aspiring marine biologist has never so much as stuck a toe in the ocean.

Tiffany also dreams about a child molester pulling her into an abandoned house. This dream is grounded in the present and is a very legitimate concern for a little girl living in an iffy neighborhood.

That this fifth-grader clings to her dream of being a scientist is a testament to her parents’ devotion. Despite meager resources, Violet and Isaac Everhart have prevented a year marred by problems with housing, bullying and drugs to dash Tiffany’s spirit.

For the past several months, cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer have chronicled some of the hurdles confronting Violet and Isaac through daily installments of “A Greater Cleveland,” a series about children growing up in the inner city. We reprise some of them for you today.

Home is not-so sweet

Brenda Cain, cleveland.com    

For the past 20 years, the Everharts have leased half of a century-old duplex in a blighted section of Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood.

Tiffany describes the place as “homey,” though the landlord has been slow to respond to complaints of rats in the pantry, leaks in the bathroom ceiling, a broken window and badly worn linoleum in the kitchen.

This fall, when temperatures suddenly plummet, mom, dad and Tiffany sequester themselves in a bedroom with a space heater and blankets draped over windows while waiting for the landlord to get the furnace running again.

They wait three days.

They only leave the bedroom to get food and use the bathroom.

The landlord is a nice enough man, according to Violet, but he doesn’t care about the house.

“He only comes promptly,” she says, “when it is time to collect the rent.

Far more troubling is the abandoned house next door. No one has lived in the place for years. The windows and doors are boarded up, though strangers can be seen squeezing through gaps in the boards that cover the back door.

This is the source of Tiffany’s nightmarish dreams. She says she gets “the shivers” just walking by. Isaac and Violent constantly warn their daughter to stay away from the place.

Their concerns have heightened since last winter, when the body of 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze was found in another abandoned house not far from their neighborhood. The girl had been beaten and stabbed.

Isaac and Violent want to move, preferably to a suburb such as Newburgh Heights or Valley View and a neighborhood safe enough for Tiffany to play in her yard without the constant supervision of an adult. But such a move is out of the question for financial reasons.

Violet is the family’s sole source of support, earning a modest wage for factory work. Isaac was injured on the job as a landscaper more than two years ago and has yet to obtain disability benefits. For now, the $450 rent on the duplex is all they can afford.

So, the Everharts are left to hope that the city demolishes the abandoned house next door. And they have reason to hope. City inspectors have condemned the place and added the address to the list of structures that are to be razed.

There is only one catch: 2,096 other structures are on the same list.

A troubling discovery

Art by Garrette Weider 

Violet and Isaac are vigilant about protecting their daughter from the dangers of the outside world. But despite their best efforts, trouble has wormed its way into their home and caused heartache for little Tiffany.

The disappearance of a portable generator from the front porch is the first sign. Isaac and Violent presume they have been victimized by a burglar, and not for the first time since they have lived in the neighborhood. But Tiffany tells her parents she saw her beloved brother, 23-year-old Matthew, walk off with the generator earlier that day.

A recovering drug addict himself, Isaac gets his son to acknowledge that he sold the generator to support a drug habit. Matthew also admits to maxing out the family’s credit card, saddling Isaac and Violet with $5,000 of debt.

The Everharts have already lost one son to a drug overdose. They are determined not to have tragedy strike again. So, Isaac immediately takes Matthew to a drug-rehabilitation center in Willoughby.

“As hard as it is on him, or the whole family, I have to be hard about this,” Issac tells a reporter, tears coursing down his cheeks. “It’s the only way I can help him.”

Though Matthew is covered on his mother’s health plan through her work, the family must come up with the $2,500 deductible before the insurance kicks in.

Matthew is eventually transferred to a rehab facility in Michigan, and then to a half-way house in Florida. The family is told he must stay away from Cleveland for a long time, perhaps forever.

This is devastating news for Tiffany. Living in a neighborhood where it is not safe for her to roam and make friends her own age, Tiffany has relied on Matthew to be both a playmate and protector.

She tells a reporter she is angry at Matthew for “messing things up.”

An ‘opportunity desert’

Abandoned homes and shadowy strangers aren’t the only drawbacks to living in the Everhart’s blighted neighborhood. This part of the city also lacks amenities many suburbanites take for granted.

Tiffany, for instance, is interested in ballet. After seeing a ballet demonstration at the Boys & Girls Club on Broadway Avenue, she continually asks her mother if she can take lessons.

Even if Violet had the money for ballet lessons, which can run as much as $60 a month, she would be hard pressed to arrange for transportation. The nearest ballet studios are 10-mile round trips from home.

Tiffany’s big brother, Matthew, used to serve as her chauffeur. But with Matthew admitted to a drug-rehabilitation center, the family struggles just to get Tiffany to and from her school, which is two miles from home.

Violet’s factory job is in Northfield and she doesn’t get home until 6:30 p.m. Isaac suffers from severe migraines and seizures and is often not able to drive.

“It breaks my heart every time she wants to do something like dance or karate,” Violet tells a reporter. “Generally I have to say ‘no’ mostly because we just don’t have the money.

“But I have a dream too, that someday Tiffany will ask again to take dance or karate and I can say ‘Yes! There is a new school right up the street and it is one we can afford.’ In my mind, I can just see her face light up. I hope that day comes soon.”

Tiffany’s ‘ticket out’

Isaac and Violet regularly remind their daughter that education is her best bet for escaping a life of low-paying jobs and poverty.

They speak from experience. They both dropped out of high school, though Isaac later earned a General Education Diploma because he believed it would put him in better stead with potential employers.

So, mom and dad are distressed when, three days into the new school year, Tiffany comes home crying and reports she is again the target of a bully. The issue is particularly vexing, because they had talked to the school principal about this same bully last year.

Violet decides she needs to find another school for her daughter, a daunting task for someone who didn’t complete 10th grade. To help with the search, she enlists the assistance of a cleveland.com reporter.

Mother and reporter are impressed with their visit to the Washington Park Community School in suburban Newburgh Heights. But when faced with a list of documents from the school, Violet’s eyes mist over. She confides that she doesn’t know the meaning of some of the words. Words such as “siblings” and “inoculation.”

The search for a new school ends up costing Tiffany nearly a week of classes. Even so, the fifth-grader thrives at Washington Park and her first report card shows her earning top marks in all categories.

Violet’s eyes widen and moisten with tears when Tiffany shows off her grades at the dinner table. Hugs are then exchanged and the usual dinner-time banter is replaced with talk of what career Tiffany will settle on when she grows up.

A Greater Cleveland is a project of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. See the entirety of our project by clicking here.

A Greater Cleveland is a call to action to the community to help identify and remove the barriers to success faced by Cleveland children in poverty. For those moved to make donations, we ask that you consider a gift to the United Way of Greater Cleveland, which is focusing on issues of multigenerational poverty that this series will examine. Because of the sensitive family matters discussed in this series, we have provided the people we write about anonymity and are using pseudonyms to identify them.