MANCHESTER — State officials tested the Welcome Home rooming house for lead paint this week, after elevated levels of the brain-damaging toxin were found in a toddler who lives there with her family, the house manager confirmed.
The discovery prompted the advocacy group Granite State Organizing Project to say that children should not be allowed to live at Welcome Home. But manager Julio Chea said the interior of Welcome Home, a former convent at 286 Concord St., has been lead-free for 12 years.
He suspects the child, a 2½-year-old girl, was exposed while playing on the third-floor porch. Chea did not realize until this week that porch railings contained lead, he said.
Once he learned of the lead contamination, Chea posted notices throughout the structure placing the porch off limits. Signs and yellow caution tape were evident on Wednesday; however, the door to the porch was ajar during a visit this week.
“There’s no lead inside the building. It’s been tested and tested and tested,” Chea said. He said he expects he will have to remove or encapsulate lead on the wooden railings.
Welcome Home critics
The 48-room Welcome Home has become a bone of contention with some social service agencies and the city. The rooming house accepts children, and Chea said many of the parents contend with joblessness, domestic violence or drug addiction.
City inspectors usually find violations during inspections. Chea fixes them and earns his permit.
“Everyone who works with low-income children finds it incomprehensible that the city finds it an OK place for children,” said Sarah Jane Knoy, director of Granite State Organizing Project. She said previous inspections have found loose and flaking paint, pesticides, overcrowding and cleaning items within children’s reach.
She also said the structure lacks a functioning kitchen.
Chea said social service agencies often bad-mouth him. But he said social workers, visiting nurses and Springfield College students visit almost daily. Just before a reporter arrived Wednesday, he said police had arrested a mother and left her three children, including an infant, in the care of him and his tenants.
“We’re in the business of helping people out. A lot of families, unfortunately this is their last stop,” he said.
He said about 33 children were living at the building on Wednesday. Twelve are under the age of 6 and are being tested for lead, he said.
“Julio’s awesome. He takes care of the kids,” said a resident who would only identify herself as Dee. “I’m sure if there was an issue here, he’d be on it.”
Dr. Jose Montero, the state public health director, confirmed that the state is investigating an elevated blood-lead reading in Manchester. He said he could not provide any information about the patient. He said information on what property is involved will become public if the state demands remediation.
“Generally, we have to remove people at risk. Depending on the findings, there may be other options,” Montero said.
He said the state would help any displaced families navigate the system, but Manchester Health Department would “do the heavy lifting.”
City Health Director Tim Soucy said his agency works with families and social service agencies to find lead-safe housing when children are displaced.
Soucy’s department is part of the Neighborhood Enforcement Team, or NET, which conducts surprise inspections of properties with serious violations of housing and safety codes. He acknowledged that the NET team does not test for lead when it inspects properties.
“I don’t understand why that’s the case,” Knoy said, “especially in Manchester, where we know a lot of our housing has old paint that’s a lead hazard.”