Squatters break into foreclosed homes

CHICAGO (CBS) ― It’s something we‘re just getting used to: foreclosed and boarded up houses. But just because you see those boards, doesn‘t mean no one’s home.

As CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, with the cold weather and snow, squatters are seeking shelter in some of those empty buildings.

At least a dozen times, one man has broken into what used to be his, but what is now the bank’s. He’s a squatter at his old address.

„I had to pry open the back door,“ he said.

There’s no running water and no heat.

„I‘ve been blessed that the electricity is still on,“ he said.

It allows him to use a hot plate and a pot of steaming water to keep warm.

„Unfortunately I‘m here illegally, but I have no place to go,“ he said.

He’s not alone. He says there are others like him in his Englewood neighborhood, who have moved into boarded up, foreclosed properties.

Ed Shurna, executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said it doesn‘t surprise him at all. He doesn‘t have official stats on squatting, but with people losing their houses, he expects it.

„People are looking for a safe environment where they feel more protected,“ Shurna said. „Shelters are overcrowded. It’s hard to be able to keep your family together.“

So they seek out places where they can be together.

Mabel Guzman, with the Chicago Association of Realtors, has seen toy and stroller evidence of that in the foreclosed properties she represents.

Guzman says her properties have been broken into seven times in the past year.

„You want to help them, and at the same time you know there’s that whole property issue where it’s trespassing,“ Guzman said. „Your heart feels heavy for them. That really is the moral dilemma. What do you do?“

Guzman says her primary concern about somebody squatting is that somebody may get hurt because in most foreclosed homes, there are no utilities.

Guzman says sometimes people start fires to fight the cold, putting themselves and the property in harm’s way.

The squatter CBS 2 met understands.

„I‘m afraid that it might get too cold in here, and I can fall asleep and not wake up,“ he said.

When asked if he has tried to go anywhere to get help, he said, „I went to the Salvation Army, but there’s so many people that’s homeless, and they can only help so many.“

There is danger to human life in this situation. Guzman says people who see squatters don‘t typically report them because they don‘t want to deny them shelter.

At the end of the day though, the bank has to protect its asset so it can re-sell it and break the abandoned home cycle. That means turning squatters away, and in some cases cleaning up what they‘ve left behind.