Vacant, foreclosed homes attract squatters

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Mesa County Sheriff's deputies are encouraging residents to join Neighborhood Watch programs.

Heather Benjamin, public information officer for Mesa County Sheriff's Office, said the high number of foreclosed, vacant properties in Mesa County are attracting squatters, or people who move into a home or place they do not own and reside in it.

Last night, police found two squatters residing in a home at 140 Chipeta in downtown Grand Junction.

Nearby vacant homes are a concern for residents like Charity Perschbacher.

"Having three young kids, you just want to make sure the neighborhood is safe," Perschbacher said.

Benjamin said Mesa County Sheriff's deputies sometimes find squatters living in properties when they go do to evictions.

"If the bank foreclosed, we know everyone's moved out, and when we've gone into officially do an eviction on the property, someone might have left a sleeping bag there and is clearly sleeping at the site," Benjamin said.

Squatting is a concern for homeowners like Perschbacher, but for some, it's a way to get by.

"That was my way of life," said Grand Junction resident John Preston, who spent years squatting when he was homeless. "The places I would be forced out of, I would leave before I was forced out."

Squatting is considered a petty offense, and holds a maximum fine of $500.

To sign up for the neighborhood watch program, call the Community Policing Unit of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office at (970) 244-3276 to set up an orientation meeting.

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