ST. LOUIS – A case of sidewalk squatters has reached a crisis point in south St. Louis.
A man and woman have been living for years in a homemade shelter made from blankets and shopping carts in front of actual neighborhood houses at South Spring Avenue and Chippewa Street. Neighbors wonder how and why the City of St. Louis allows it to continue.
“I hate to see people live like that,” said Lucille Bardo, who owns a resale shop across the street from the makeshift home. “There’s got to be some type of solution.”
Solutions have been elusive for nearly two years.
The man and woman living in the improvised shelter have been living unhoused in the same neighborhood for more than a decade, according to city officials.
“They’re tough, I guess,” said neighbor Steve McClanahan.
The couple lives directly in front of his house.
“From what I’ve understood, they’ve been traveling a two-block radius (for) at least 15 years,” McClanahan said.
They don’t speak English. The woman is disabled. There may be mental health issues. Neighbors have sympathy but have grown weary of the filthy conditions, odor, and rodents.
“You can’t have people come over to visit you (during) the holidays or anything else,” McClanahan said.
“I lose customers because they already know about that corner where they live,” Bardo said.
“Yeah, I feel sorry for them, but they’ve been there for years, and nobody’s done anything about it,” said Lorraine Kunkleman, waiting for her bus near the sidewalk dwelling.
There are also safety concerns with a high volume of fast traffic passing so close to the sidewalk structure; one that neighbors hope won’t have to survive a third straight winter.
“I think they need somewhere permanent to live out the rest of their lives that’s comfortable for them and comfortable for everyone else around them,” McClanahan said. “I just think there’s got to be a better place for them to be.”
Past attempts to move the couple have failed. The city’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is conducting almost weekly outreach to the couple and turning to the International Institute to hopefully overcome the language barrier, a spokesman said.
For now, that’s the plan: continue the outreach and build some trust, so the man and woman will truly know there’s a much better life for them away from this sidewalk.