“Don’t throw up now,” Mike King says as he begins to remove his right foot from a plastic bag. What “started off with a little spot,” King says, is now a full-blown infection that has caused his foot to grow to twice its normal size. Most of his heel bone is visible, emerging out of his skin. The stench of rotting flesh is overwhelming. “That’s bone I’m walking on. I’m walking on nothing but bone, you know. Every time I put my foot down, it hurts.”
A New Orleans native, King, 57, is squatting in what’s left of a building he has called home for 20 years, long before the post-Katrina floods gutted the shotgun structure. He moved back in after a stint at the Superdome, where he stayed after the storm. His home is one of New Orleans’ estimated 43,000 abandoned buildings — the worst such statistic of any U.S. city other than Detroit. A drive through the Big Easy will show many of these properties are hardly vacant.