With no money to spare and little idea where to go, Paul Jackson of Arnold has been sleeping in his car since flood waters swept through his home at the end of December.
“My trailer is demolished and my landlady is trying to fix it up,” said Jackson, an 83-year-old veteran of the Vietnam and Korean wars. “I’ve got a 106-year-old mother in a house of 12, and I can’t live with them because they’re all filled up.”
With bitter cold temperatures in the forecast this weekend, Jackson stopped by a multi-agency resource center in Arnold on Saturday looking for a blanket.
“I have coats. That’s what I’ve been throwing over me at nighttime,” Jackson said. Every two hours or every hour I have to turn the heat on in the car. So you don’t get much sleep.”
Hundreds of people in the St. Louis region are scrambling to find alternative housing after the recent floods destroyed their homes. The search is especially difficult for people of modest means like Jackson, who lives on $900 a month from Social Security.
With damage assessments continuing to roll in, the American Red Cross is classifying more than half the homes it assesses as uninhabitable — more than 1,400 homes so far in the St. Louis region. Early geospatial estimates placed the total number of buildings damaged in the area at about 7,100.
“We are in extreme need for housing. Affordable housing,” said Karen Wallensak of Catholic Charities. “At least half the people that we’re working with (in Jefferson and Franklin counties) owned a mobile home, so they had no payments for that home, and were paying pad fees, very modest pad fees, maybe $275 or $300 a month. They only make $16,000 or $17,000 a year, so that situation was affordable for them.”
Catholic Charities spearheaded efforts at the resource center in Arnold Saturday to find transitional housing.
Because Jackson is a veteran, the agency started a search for a place to stay that specializes in veterans housing.
“He won’t leave here without a place to stay,” Wallensak said.
While the region is out of its emergency phase, Wallensak said the recovery is just beginning.
“We have people who are trying to make a go of it in their flood-damaged structure because they just don’t have any other place to go. Living with Chinese propane heaters and space heaters for heating,” Wallensak said. “We’re hearing stories about children who are having asthma attacks and adults who are getting sick because the mold already is starting to grow. So we have a lot of folks living in very unhealthy situations, even dangerous situations given the weather.”
Catholic Charities is trying to match people looking for housing with empty apartments that rent for $300 or $400 a month, and searching for cheap trailers available to purchase.
But according to Wallensak, the region already lacked sufficient affordable housing stock before the floods. She said it can take years for people to return to stable living conditions after a disaster, especially when they are poor.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.