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Watchdog: Elderly Fort Worth woman has nothing to go home to

On this Christmas Eve, let me introduce you to two loyal friends who don't know what to do next. Opal Lee helps her friend Norma Black recuperate from a bad fall by letting Lee stay at her Fort Worth home. Lee is 84, Black, 85.

But while Black has been recovering from a broken hip, her house in Southside has been broken into at least three times and stripped of most of its valuables, her friends say.

Lee has tried to find help to restore Black's house so Black can move back home. But the best Lee can do is get Black's name on a government waiting list.

These two loyal friends met at I.M. Terrell High. Black graduated in 1942. Lee followed in 1943. They have been close ever since.

Lee is founder and board chairman of the Community Food Bank, which feeds, she says, "anybody who's hungry." Black is a former hospital nurse who also worked many years at the Kimball Art Museum.

Black was injured last summer, as Lee was dropping her off at her home. Stepping out of Lee's truck, Black fell and broke her hip. Black spent the next two months at John Peter Smith Hospital, with Lee her regular visitor.

When Black was released, she couldn't return home because she couldn't walk. So Lee invited her to share her home.

The other day, Black, who has short grey hair and wears big glasses, was triumphant. "The doctor said I wouldn't walk, but I'm walking with my walker. I was not going to lay down and die."

She can't hear well, and conversations are shouted back and forth. She can't see well either.

"That's my best friend," she shouted about Lee. Black has one grown son, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, but she said, "I never see them."

"Nobody calls. Nobody comes. I feel like I'm thrown away."

Black's empty house was a sitting target. Fort Worth police have a report of a first break-in that occurred in late August. Lee showed me a video that captures the house's deplorable condition after it was ransacked. Clothing and possessions are strewn everywhere.

Lee said, "The last time, they took the air-conditioning units out. Her TV is gone. Her table. Even the kitchen stove. They trashed up her clothes, just pulled everything out. Took the dishes. The microwave is gone, too.

"They took her box with her personal papers. Her pre-need burial papers. Gone. And the funeral home doesn't have a record. Not to mention her birth certificate, marriage license. It's just mind-boggling."

Even before this violation of her human dignity, Black's 1,000-square-foot home wasn't in the greatest shape.

Lee explained, "The roof leaks. The floors are horrible. The plumbing's not good."

Black hasn't yet seen the destruction of the home that has been in her family for 60 years. She hasn't been back since her fall. "They tell me my house has been cleaned out of a house full of furniture," she shouted. "They told me everything is gone. They took my checkbook, too."

On behalf of her friend, Lee appealed to Fort Worth city government. The Housing and Economic Development Department received an application for assistance under the city's Emergency Repair Program. Qualified applicants can receive up to $5,000 to repair or replace certain parts of a house that the city believes to be unhealthy or unsafe.

City inspectors visited Black's house but couldn't find problems with the plumbing or the electrical systems, city spokesman Jay Chapa told me. The gas was turned off, so that portion wasn't inspected.

The city says that when Black is ready to return to the home, city staffers will inspect again to see if any assistance can be provided.

Sadly, there's little left to inspect.

Two loyal friends on Christmas Eve wonder what happens next.

"I had a good life," Black said. "I'm going home, I hope, around New Year's. My friend has done all she can."

The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.

Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043

Twitter @DaveLieber

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