New police team moves squatters out of empty houses

New police team moves squatters out of empty houses »Play Video

GRESHAM, Ore. - A new Gresham police team said it is making progress in clearing squatters out of abandoned houses and buildings. The new Neighborhood Enforcement Team started May 1 and said it has secured 32 buildings in the first three months.

Officers Jim Leake and Dan Estes said the squatters cause problems for neighbors and the community. At the abandoned Rockwood Motel, squatters moved in and made the rooms into their drug dens and crime headquarters, according to Estes.

He said squatters often bringing back their loot from burglaries and car break-ins and sort through it, leaving evidence behind.

"We'll find mail with 10 different names on it, different addresses. We'll find vehicle registrations. We'll find discarded, empty purses," he said.

They also leave needles and glass meth pipes on the floor or other places where people can step on them or get hurt, and  may steal appliances from the homes they are occupying, along with wiring and plumbing, to try to get cash.

"So, the stove will grow legs and walk off, the microwave, the refrigerator," said Estes. "People go in and they take all that stuff and sell it on Craigslist or just on the street."

Many abandoned houses have no running water. Estes said squatters often use another room or simply the floor for their restroom.

"Some houses we've seen, they would pick a closet and that would be the bathroom," he said. "Others, they would use the bathroom despite there being no water. And eventually it became so bad they have to close the door and then they would use a bedroom they weren't sleeping in."

Estes and Leake said they work to track down the property owner and get a statement that the squatters don't have permission to be there, so law enforcement can move them out.

The officers encourage owners to board up the property to keep squatters out.  

In some cases, the team can board up a house for community safety reasons, said Estes.

Estes said the response from neighbors has been very positive.

He remembers the second house they boarded up.

"We had neighbors stop in the middle of the street, getting out of their cars, clapping, coming up, shaking our hands, saying that house had been a problem for four to five years and finally somebody's doing something," Estes said.

If you see a problem house in Gresham, you can call the Neighborhood Enforcement Team tip line at 503-618-2NET (503-618-2638).