Farm camp 'unsafe for human occupancy'

When inspectors showed up at Ronald Jones' farmworker housing camp here, they found a place unfit for humans.

Within a day in early May, the multicolored buildings were condemned, with bright red ``Danger'' signs on each door: ``This building is deemed unsafe for human occupancy.''

Inspectors found five open septic systems; bad plumbing; substandard floors, roofs and ceilings - and ``evidence of occupancy of the cabins'' even though the complex didn't have the proper permits to house migrant workers.

As dragonflies buzzed overhead one May day, an exposed septic tank was filled with sewage. A 32-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor bottle lay nearby.

``It just was miserable living there. And I just wanted out of that filth,'' farmworker Earnest Louis Mitchell, 57, said in a telephone interview from a homeless shelter.

``The commode wouldn't flush, you smelled all through the house at night, and water was all on the floor. You could get electrocuted when you went into the bathroom.''

He doesn't intend to go back. ``I'm just going to bum the street - no more farm work.''

Mitchell had walked away from Jones' employ and called the number on a Legal Services flier. Lisa Butler, a Florida Rural Legal Services attorney, notified the state Department of Health, which investigated along with the Putnam County code enforcement division.

Jones, who owns several farm housing camps in the area, did not reply to written questions. But later that May day, his wife happened to stop by the housing camp.

``A lot of things we didn't know about,'' said Sylvia Jones, who said she co-owns the property with her husband. ``It was like this when we got it.''

The Jones camp is just one of many around the state where workers live in squalor. Yet little is done to help them - unless someone complains.

``Migrant workers aren't one to complain too much,'' said John Salmons, the Putnam County code enforcement supervisor, who examined the buildings with Code Officer Dina K. Trull.

``I think they're afraid for whatever reason. If they're illegal aliens or just happy to be working, we don't get a lot of calls on migrant labor camps.''

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