Jan 16, 2012 12:20 AM by John Romero

'Squatting' could be to blame for recent fires

Last Sunday an outbuilding of an apartment complex burned to the ground on Hathaway Drive nearly taking another building with it. The suspected cause was transients living in the abandoned buildings.

Less than a week later an abandoned warehouse on Sierra Madre in Colorado Springs was engulfed in flames. It turned out to be a 2 alarm fire that destroyed the building. Once again there were numerous reports of homeless people camping inside.

They're called squatters, homeless people who roam from building to building looking for a place to spend the night. "I think if you have an empty building that's ignored, you can pretty much count on people living there." explains Bob Holmes, a homeless advocate with Homeward Pikes Peak.

We spoke to members of CSPD's Homeless Outreach Team off camera. They tell us there has always been somewhat of an issue with squatters. But that issue becomes more prevalent as temperatures drop. With a bad economy more people are out of luck and out of money. Holmes tells us local shelters are already jam packed. "They've (shelters) pretty much been full or very close to full every night." he explains, "So you do have people that are not going to have a place to stay."

Because of the city's no camping ordinance, many homeless find old buildings and settle in for the night. But even before the ordinance took effect, similar things happened. "The mixture of alcohol and fire can be pretty deadly." says Holmes, "We had several occasions when tents burned down."

While people like Holmes and the HOT Team try to do everything they can to get people off the streets and in to programming, not everyone will accept the help. That leaves the door open to more scenes like the ones we saw in the past week. "As far as the damage that's been done by these fires, I think a word to the owners would be to start doing sue diligence on their properties. Especially in cold weather." explains Holmes.

The actual causes of both fires remain under investigation. But both Cimarron Hills and Colorado Springs Fire have confirmed that both buildings were inhabited by squatters



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