Mother of fire victim tells daughter’s story; House of Bread knew 4 of 5 who died

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Nonprofit director says many people stayed in the Broadway Street house that burned

The executive director of a meal center in West Dayton said she knew four of the five people who were found dead following a house fire on North Broadway Street three weeks ago, and she also may have known the fifth person.

Three of the individuals were in and out of local homeless shelters, and a couple caused some problems at those facilities.

Meanwhile, the mother of one of the deceased told the Dayton Daily News about her daughter’s life struggles and years of family efforts to help her.

The Montgomery County Coroner’s office on Monday said the five people that authorities found dead following a fire in the abandoned home on March 8 were Brittany Lee Alsup, 33; Chrisinda Jo Ray Freeman, 40; Andrew Miller, 30; Laura Sears, 37; and Christopher Hermann, 41.

Meal center, housing issues

Alsup, Freeman, Miller and Sears used the services of the House of Bread, which includes a lunchtime meal every day of the year, said Melodie Bennett, the executive director of the nonprofit organization, which is located on Orth Avenue, a short walk from the home that burned.

Bennett said she does not know if Hermann visited the House of Bread, but he may have since multiple people named Christopher have come through its doors. Hermann at one point lived in Troy and attended Troy High School.

Multiple people who have used House of Bread’s services were in and out of the home In the 500 block of North Broadway Street, and some people “lived” in the abandoned home, she said.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Five lives were lost in the tragic fire, and these people were brothers, sisters, friends and had family members in the community, Bennett said.

Bennett also said some people who visit House of Bread escaped the fire when it started early that morning. The Dayton Daily News talked to a 22-year-old homeless man who says he barely got out of the burning home alive.

Bennett said the community needs to identify housing solutions for people struggling with addiction so they have places to stay that can help them address substance abuse and mental health issues that lead them to feeling that an abandoned home is their only option for shelter. She said knocking down all vacant properties is not the answer.

“Finding shelter in abandoned buildings may seem very unreal to many people. It is sometimes seen as the safest option to someone who is homeless and chooses not to use emergency shelter services,” Bennett said. “Sometimes these people are so estranged from what family they have, and sometimes they simply do not have any family.”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

A mother’s story

Alsup’s mother, Tawana Golding, told this newspaper that people suffering from mental illness like her daughter are not choosing to live on the streets, but that society and the government have turned their backs on these individuals in ways.

She said she tried to get her daughter help, but she kept being told that Alsup was an adult, and she didn’t think she could afford going through a conservatorship process that was not certain to work.

Golding said when her daughter was hospitalized, she begged the hospitals to keep her long enough for her medication to work.

But she said the hospital released Alsup after three days when she likely needed several months for the medication to take hold.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Alsup, of Washington Court House, was born in Fort Hood, Texas, and graduated from high school in Killeen Texas, according to an obituary posted on Summers Funeral Home’s website.

Alsup was a mother who enjoyed singing and writing music, the obituary states.

Alsup’s struggles with mental health began in her early teens, but she ended up in the hospital after giving birth to her first child — with what some people thought was postpartum depression, her mother said.

She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but did well with medication until the birth of her second child, her mother said, and after that she had a rough stretch and was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

She eventually was treated with Lithium, which seemed to help, and she moved in with her family, Golding said. But she had issues with the medication, and she ran into trouble when she was getting off it and was supposed to transition to new meds, her mother said.

She then had a series of hospital stays, arrests and experienced homelessness, Golding said.

Golding said she also wants answers about what caused the fire.

Shelter, homelessness issues

Heather Wilson, program services director of Miami Valley Housing Opportunities, said the fire deaths were a tragic event that has put the issue of homelessness in Montgomery County in the spotlight.

“We are working with the county and the city of Dayton to explore options and funding opportunities to provide additional resources and affordable housing to those experiencing street homelessness,” she said.

Officials with the St. Vincent de Paul shelters here said multiple people who died in the fire had used shelter services in the past.

Alsup had been in and out of the St. Vincent de Paul Shelter for Women and Families since 2021. Earlier this year, she was banned from the shelter after pulling the fire alarm, officials said. She pleaded not guilty in Dayton Municipal Court to misdemeanor charges of inducing panic and making false alarms.

Freeman had been in and out of the women’s shelter since 2019, and officials said she did cause some issues while staying in emergency housing.

Hermann was in and out of St. Vincent de Paul Shelter for Men on Gettysburg Avenue for years. Hermann attended Sinclair Community College — he was registered for classes between the winter of 2010 and the fall of 2014. His academic program was computer aided manufacturing / CNC technology.

Court records show Miller was convicted of possessing heroin years ago, and more recently he got into trouble for using illicit drugs while on probation for a separate drug charge.

Michael Vanderburgh, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Society Dayton, said the tragedy illustrates that the community does not have enough resources or the right tools to address some of its problems with mental illness and homelessness.

Vanderburgh also said the local support system can’t help people who do not want it or who refuse to seek it.

“This is a continuing concern for our community,” he said.

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