Overseeing thousands of dollars of emergency repairs to her Valley Junction business property wasn’t how Shirley Chencar wanted to spend the last few bone-chilling January days.
But a trespasser who left a basement door open, causing water pipes to burst in freezing weather and fill the basement of her building at 221 Fifth St. with two feet of water, left her no choice but to take on the daunting cleanup task before unforgiving subzero weather causes more damage.
“I’m 80 years old and I can tell you, this is not something I care to do right now,” Chencar said. “It wears me out.”
A mattress and box springs were found in the basement, along with a sleeping bag and rug, giving rise to speculation that a homeless person had been living undetected in the unfinished basement.
“I’m sure it was someone seeking shelter,” said Chencar, who is retired now, but lived and worked in Valley Junction for more than 20 years as the founder and proprietor of Heart of Iowa Market Place, which she sold in 2007.
Cold Weather Reveals Homelessness
In a recent interview with Patch, West Des Moines Police Chief Shaun LaDue said homelessness is more visible in winter weather because people are looking for shelter from the cold.
The Valley Junction incident wasn’t the only incident of trespassing on the West Des Moines Police Department blotter during the recent cold snap.
On Jan. 27, an employee of Wright Outdoor Solutions, 8000 Raccoon River Drive, reported seeing a man leave the premises about 10:25 a.m. The business was closed at the time and a check of the property showed nothing amiss – other than the discovery that the intruder had made himself a pot of coffee.
Chencar wishes she had been as lucky. She’s keeping her fingers crossed that her losses will be covered by insurance and her tenants will be patient.
It wasn’t just the water pipes of her historic building that were damaged. The water swamped the furnace and the water heater, both sturdy and expensive commercial appliances that serve the six-unit building, whose tenants include Artistic Bead and Sue’s Antiques.
The pipes froze sometime between Jan. 16 and Jan. 21, when the tenants reported the loss of utility service. The businesses weren’t flooded, but business was disrupted. Shopkeepers and other tenants had to use restrooms in the Community Center next door. In some cases, they just closed up shop and went home, Chencar said.
One of the tenants, the antique store, is moving. The recent temporary loss of heat and water wasn’t the only factor, but it didn’t help, the building owner said.
Chencar said her building was targeted a few months ago by thieves who removed copper wiring and tubing – hot commodities on the black market.