Fort Washington neighbors “pitch in pennies” to save homes -- Gazette.Net


With no word yet on whether the state will help fund the Piscataway Drive road repair, residents of the Fort Washington community affected by a landslide have started their own fundraising campaign.

Heavy rain on May 4 saturated a layer of soil prone to sliding on a slope in the Piscataway Hills community leading to a slope failure that displaced five households, damaged water and sewer lines and forced 22 other families to temporarily evacuate their homes.

Prince George’s County officials, including County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III (D), have gathered residents for several community meetings to discuss proposals to fix Piscataway Drive and keep as many residents in their homes as possible.

County spokesman Scott Peterson said the county established the Fort Washington Relief Fund shortly after the slope failure to collect donations and has received $10,000 from the Peterson Family Foundation and the Walmart Foundation.

“This is an incredibly difficult and complex incident,” Peterson said. “The county is going to continue to work through this issue with the same sense of urgency since its inception two months ago.”

Dawn Taylor, a resident and spokeswoman for the Piscataway Hills community, said residents decided to start raising funds after their third meeting with county officials. There they determined they needed to hire an attorney to negotiate with county officials and advocate for an option that repairs the road and saves all of the homes, Taylor said.

Right away, residents started “pitching in whatever pennies” they had, Taylor said.

“There were some citizens who literally went into their savings and bank accounts and pockets and gave money,” Taylor said.

Neighbors pulled together a July 12 yard sale in four days and raised more than $2,200, Taylor said.

“I was not alone in giving up things that probably meant a whole lot more to me than what we sold them for, but it was also for the greater good of this community,” Taylor said.

Residents also launched a GoFundMe campaign, which raised $4,805 in 26 days, and secured nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition. The campaign petition calls Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to encourage Prince George’s County to fix the road and save the homes, rather than buy out residents.

“We have to take it from yard sales and bake sales and chili cook-offs,” Taylor said. “We are really going to have to formalize a true fundraising committee that will be able to bring in the dollars that may be necessary to help the community.”

While some of the money raised will go toward paying the attorney, it would also be offered to families to assist them with housing payments. Taylor said some families are paying hotel fees or rent for temporary housing as well as their mortgage.

“Whatever we raise we are going to try to put it where it’s needed the most,” Taylor said.

Chief administrative officer Nicholas Majett said the county is still having conversations with O’Malley about whether the state could contribute funds to a $15.5 million road stabilization solution, called “option five.”

Representatives from O’Malley’s office could not be reached by deadline.

“The county still says the county only has $11 million and option five is the most affordable option that will keep most of us in our homes,” Taylor said. “They’re not saying we have to do it on our own. We need to come up with $4.5 million.”

Resident John Schnizlein said after the meeting that finding and funding a solution that also helps the five uninhabitable homes on the slope is critical.

“We’re still afraid of oncoming winter with the threat that we’ll be put out of our homes for six months. I think that motivates everybody,” Schnizlein said.

The community plans to have another yard sale Aug. 9, but first, neighbors gathered for a potluck Sunday night.

“We’re trying to get normal moments in a very abnormal situation,” Taylor said. “We had this horrible thing happen to us, but we were neighbors and friends first.”