I got a call the other day from a prospective client who asked if I could come by and give a quote on repairing a "damaged" electrical system. The building was a newer 3-unit condominium building, one of those red brick three story's that line the rehabbed areas of the South Side. I imagine it was built between 2001 and 2007, in the height of the real estate "boom." It was in a perfect Bronzeville location, right on King Drive. It had been vacant for a couple years, I imagine. A foreclosure. One of the units, at least, had been sold and was occupied before the bank ended up with the whole thing. It was not my place to pry into the details. The man who had contacted me was an investor, trying to get a dollar figure to restore the electrical system.
It was sad to see. The "damage" was that some people had broken in and stolen as much of the wire and cable as they could get away with. Copper prices have been very high of late, and cashing in scrap copper at a junk yard can yield some decent money. Everything is relative, of course. Scrap copper at the junk yard does not yield anything close to what we pay for the brand new wire when we install it. Never-the-less, compared to say, aluminum, which can be "harvested" by digging through garbage cans and dumpsters for empty cans, it is a high priced commodity.
Some very hard-pressed folks had broken into this building and pulled out as much copper wire as they could. The top picture shows the 1 1/4" feeder pipes from the meter socket outside. They had their copper cable stripped out and are empty. The next two photos show the panels. All of the empty pipes that terminate at the panels until recently had #12 and #14 copper branch circuit wires in them. These panels looked just like the one in your basement until not too long ago. From the panels, the pipes extended to this row of junction boxes in the basement ceiling, and from there up to the respective apartments. The junction boxes had been opened, and in some cases the pipes yanked down and remain hanging. The panel covers were strewn about the basement floor. The thieves had also gotten into one of the condo units and had begun to yank the wall outlets and switches off the wall to strip that wire too.
I am struck by a couple things here. It saddens me to see that conditions are so desperate for some folks that it's either this or starve. Paint me naive or liberal, but I don't think the people who did this had many other options or were going to take the money to buy video games. This is survival, plain and simple That is the reality of the 2012 economy as it plays out on the South Side of Chicago. It saddens me to see it has come to that. Bear in mind that the power was never shut off, so these folks put themselves in serious danger in doing this. I'm also struck that they took the small wires. I have seen thieves steal the large cable, because there is so much more copper. But taking the time to pull out the small branch circuit wires as well just indicates to me the heightened degree of desperation out there.
Yes, this was a crime. No, I am not excusing it. But I am seeing it for what it is.
Hard Times on the South Side.