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No Quick Answers for Homeless after Massive Warehouse Fire

Kevin Killeen
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Homeless man Donald Waltman in front of warehouse where he says 26 live

Homeless man Donald Waltman in front of warehouse where he says 26 live

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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–Still no official word from the fire department on what touched off last week’s five-alarm blaze that heavily damaged a vacant six-story warehouse, amid growing calls for the city to deal with dozens of homeless living nearby.

“There’s a lot of homeless in this area,” said businesswoman Kim Story who works across the street from the now-condemned Crunden-Martin warehouse, “We need to do something with the homeless.  They live in the old buildings. There’s fires all the time, because they’re trying to keep warm.”

Story says since last week’s fire,  the homeless have attempted to break into her building and the handful of employees who work there fear for their safety.

A group of homeless warming themselves by a fire contained in a barrel inside an empty warehouse nearby complained that the public is rushing to blame the homeless for a fire that is still under investigation.

img 3072 No Quick Answers for Homeless after Massive Warehouse Fire

Crunden-Martin warehouse after the fire

“The ones that are here at the warehouse, everyone was present and accounted for that morning,” said homeless man Donald Waltman, “There’s a building across the street over there.  It could’ve been some of them.  I have noticed fires at night over there.”

Waltman estimated there are 26 people living in his building, and another dozen at the empty Powell Square building across the way.

As evidence that someone has been in the Crunden-Martin warehouse recently, graffiti spraypainted on the exterior brick from the rooftop reads, “World Series 2011,  Go Cards.”

Story says the historic Crunden-Martin building was seized by the state for failure to pay back taxes and has been vacant for sometime with no electricity or utility service that could cause a fire.

Arriving on the scene, as KMOX was talking with the homeless , Unitarian minister Thomas Stratman pulled up in a minivan.  Stratman admits that he has brought wood to the homeless in the area for them to keep warm, but only for one building he says where the homeless have “permission from the owner to be there,” and they practice “fire safety.”

img 3071 No Quick Answers for Homeless after Massive Warehouse Fire

Sign on open door leading to the Crunden-Martin warehouse

“I’m in communication with the mayor’s office working on a solution,” Stratman said.

The city’s Director of Homeless Services, Bill Siedhoff, says the city plans to open 100 additional “overflow beds” for the homeless this winter, but there are no plans to “evict” the homeless from the riverfront warehouse district.

“We have people who don’t want to go into a facility,” Siedhoff said, “They prefer to be in a vacant building.”

When asked why the city can’t arrest homeless for tresspassing in vacant buildings, or set a deadline to end their encampments as with the Occupy protestors, Siedhoff says he’ll have to check with the legal department.

Copyright KMOX

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