DALLAS (AP) _ Two little sisters who were abandoned by their mother lived in squalor for more than a month in a deserted warehouse, cared for by a group of homeless men who were hailed as heroes.

Now the older girl claims she was molested by one of the men.

The children were placed in foster care. Police Sgt. Jim Chandler said they had not been interviewed as of Wednesday afternoon.

A homeless man who goes by the name ``Phil,'' who spends his days panhandling from drivers at a busy downtown intersection, said he found the girls, ages 3 and 5, a month ago. He said he cared for them while their 24-year-old mother came and went.

The woman, a reputed prostitute, finally left her daughters for good a week ago, Phil said. The graffiti-lined two-story warehouse consistently houses the indigent despite sporadic police sweeps. Dozens of beer bottles, and urine and feces were strewn just feet away from where the children played in the corner of the first floor.

Police were looking for the girls' mother Wednesday, and they arrested a man on suspicion of sexually assaulting the child, said Sgt. Fred Rich.

Phil said he, ``Big Man'' and a handful of other homeless men watched over the girls for at least a month at the fenced-up former book depository. He said he bought them fast food and things to drink, but ultimately decided to turn them over to the authorities when the 5-year-old claimed she was molested by one of the vagrants.

``That baby was abused and fondled,'' Phil said. ``I told people that I couldn't take it anymore.''

On Monday, he took the girls _ wet and dirty from the rain _ to a nearby county probation office, where juvenile probation supervisor Linda Garcia took them in.

``It was a blessing to those little girls that those homeless men brought them in,'' said Ms. Garcia, who confirmed the 5-year-old's abuse claim. ``They took a measure of risk, because they left before the police got here. They said (the girls) needed more help than they could give them.''

The girls were then placed with the state Child Protective Services.

Margie Wright, program director for the county children's agency, said she was surprised the children survived this long.

``It's fairly uncommon to have kids living like this for so long that we don't find out about it,'' she told The Dallas Morning News.

In the warehouse Wednesday, two Bibles, children's clothing and a kiddie book were strewn near a dusty mattress. The children played in that area and slept on the equally dirty second floor, up two flights of a darkened stairwell, warehouse resident Mary Alviso said.

``He was a pretty good baby sitter,'' Ms. Alviso said of Phil.

Harry Hines Boulevard, where the warehouse is located, is notorious for its miles of liquor stores, sexually oriented businesses, run-down buildings and pockets of prostitution and homelessness that stretch from downtown to the northern suburbs.

A 40-year-old homeless carpenter, Phil said he treated the girls as well as he would his own 11 children.

``That mother doesn't need them kids. She does not need those kids,'' Phil said, his voice cracking.

``I love them babies with all my heart,'' he said. ``If it wasn't for all the people out in the streets that come by when I hold my sign on Market Center (Boulevard), they wouldn't have eaten.''