Many abandoned buildings seem beyond repair in St. Louis. So do the people inside them.

By on December 4, 2018

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  There are so many abandoned houses to pick from and as many reasons why people occupy them. Jimmy Johnson said his was strategically situated between the north riverfront salvage yards and a large apartment complex that throws out a lot of junk.

Johnson earned $15 on a recent day from cutting the metal out of a shaggy recliner and other finds. He spent $2.50 of that on a pair of cold and flu tablets at the convenience store. The money could have bought more beer, but he wasn’t feeling well, and the temperature was dropping fast.

“I really need to see a doctor or something to get back on track,” Johnson, 58, said from a home that looked like a forgotten shipwreck.

Attempts to secure the two-family brick row house, built in 1892, couldn’t keep up with decay. The living room was open-air because the brick wall caved in. The floors and roof were full of holes. Tires were piled in the basement. A 30-foot tree jutted out from the second story at a 45-degree angle.

And yet Johnson found refuge here in a closet, a protective womb of sorts in the broken house that shielded him from the wind and falling debris but not the roar of traffic on nearby Interstate 70.

Right outside the closet door, he propped up the ceiling with a long four-by-four to allow escape, should the building finally collapse.

“I am hoping all this will be resolved one day, and I will put this behind me,” he said before settling down for the night.

No candles lit, it was pitch dark in the closet, which was big enough for a bed and a few belongings. Johnson planned to regain heat under thick covers. If that didn’t work, maybe he’d look up one of his relatives to stay with for the night, then start anew the next day.

But he’d have to get very cold for that to happen. He doesn’t want to put people out.

He liked his own space.

“In order to receive your blessing, you need to wait your turn,” Johnson said, often invoking the divine.

He waited for that blessing in one of at least 7,000 vacant buildings in St. Louis and one of 12,000 properties owned by the city’s bloated land bank. Many of the structures seem beyond repair. So do the people who flock to them for shelter.

How many Jimmy Johnsons are holed up in these abandoned buildings isn’t known. The annual homeless census doesn’t capture them all and land bank officials suggest the number is small, at least in city-owned buildings.

But they’re there — if you look.

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