The “Abandomeniums” of Over-the-Rhine

by Susan Lakes

As Over-the-Rhine’s facelift continues, “abandomeniums,” those vacant parcels that attract the desperate, disappear.

There’s a lot of renovation going on in Overthe-Rhine, and that is limiting the number of places for visitors to drop out of sight and take cover inside dilapidated buildings.

One person, Nate, knows what it feels like to be afraid inside one of the abandoned or uninhabited buildings. The thought of rats scares him. So does the thought of strangers wondering in or police busting in, crying “trespassing.” All the noise is scary. But the deafening silence can be bad, too.

Nate spent a few nights on and off for six months in a local shelter, but left there and took up residence inside one of the city’s vacant buildings. Building Cincinnati’s website shows that there were 5,183 condemned or abandoned buildings a few months ago.

That figure represented a 10.8% increase from the previous year and a 190% increase in the past five years.

But for Nate, who lives in Over-the-Rhine, the statistics don’t matter. He watches bulldozers and other heavy equipment chip away at restoration projects, including the big one at the now barricaded park.

All the activity won’t erase the memories of abandomium living.

“It’s scary. You sleep in there and don’t know about the rats, or if someone else is there who might try to harm you, and if the police will come in and bust you for trespassing,” he said in a recent interview.

Last winter was his last time he took up residence in one of the buildings. He slept with his back up to the wall on a nasty dirty floor. Fortunately, he picked a rodent-free one. “I didn’t see a rat, or I wouldn’t have stayed there. I wouldn’t have stayed there if I had heard one either.”

It was cold, though. “It’s colder inside the building than if you get outside, “ he said about the harsh winter conditions, even underneath a roof. But the roof provided some relief from the chilly winds.

Some nights, the shelter conditions were unbearable, even though he was inside. Nate said all the trapped air made it feel cold, sometimes too cold to sleep.

So he moved elsewhere.

“I would sometimes get in someone’s apartment building and sleep in the laundry room,” he said. “Forty degrees felt a lot better than 10 degrees outside.”

Sometimes, company showed up. “Other people would come in, but I stayed to myself and they did the same,” he said. No entertaining here—and no cooking either. Nate had no light or heat, and usually crept inside after dark to avoid detection. He slithered out before dawn.