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April 4, 2013

At a Cedar Street duplex, a young family walls out what ails the city

LAWRENCE — From the backyard deck of their tidy Cedar Street home, Alex Serrano and his wife and three young children have a clear view into the belly of the beasts that roam this city.

Addicts toss bloody hypodermic needles to the ground like cigarette butts or jab them into the back of the fence Serrano put up last year to wall off his children’s pool and swing set from the destitution that unfolds daily on the other side.

Prostitutes bring their johns to mattresses scattered around the vacant lots and the alley that surround his duplex on three sides, occasionally flinging their condoms under the fence.

Midnight dumpers also appear to have unfettered access to the weedy lots, including one that is owned by the city. Mixed in with the 10 or 12 sopped and filthy mattresses scattered around the lots and the alley are piles of shattered television sets and broken liquor bottles, several tires, a sofa and overstuffed plastic bags of household trash spilling out their contents, including used diapers.

On a recent morning, after Serrano, 30, and his wife, Lillian, 28, thought they’d seen it all, Lillian Serrano saw one thing more, in broad daylight.

“Two days ago, my wife heard a noise,” Serrano said. “When she went to the second floor, she could see a couple having sex (on a mattress in the alley). It was in the day. I think it was 9 in the morning. It was early.”

The duplex at 38 and 40 Cedar St. is a perfect storm of conditions that attract illegal activity in Lawrence. The house is just half a block from the boarding houses that line Broadway in that part of the city. The weedy lots that surround it on three sides provide a small bit of off-street seclusion to whoever might need it. The alley in the back has been abandoned for more than a decade, making it difficult to enforce trespassing laws, and is so overgrown that police patrols can’t drive through.

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