More than a dozen people have been arrested after they were found squatting in a county-owned motel in Florida, where officers found “gruesome scenes” of damage.
The group had scaled a 10-foot-tall chain-link fence and ripped boards from the windows to secure access to the former Budget Inn on SW 13th Street in Gainesville, which has been converted into a homeless shelter.
Utility workers who arrived to service the meters tipped off Alachua County authorities after discovering that most of the devices had been stolen from people staying there and that there was also “significant” damage to the motel .
Officers were dispatched and arrested 19 people on charges of damaging the building, drug abuse and stealing electricity.
“It was just a really gruesome scene that we found,” said district spokesman Mark Sexton.
More than a dozen people have been arrested after they were found squatting in a county-owned motel in Florida, where officers found “gruesome scenes” of damage
Riche Ghirawoo and Maria Wilkerson were among 11 men and eight women arrested by local police and charged with crimes including criminal damage, drug abuse and electricity theft
Jonnita George and Darrell Shock
“There were a lot of people there and the facilities were badly damaged.” “They had broken into the utilities,” Sexton said.
“There was a tremendous amount of drug paraphernalia and alcohol.”
“No Trespassing” signs had been posted on site and the doors of each unit had been secured with door locks and master locks before they were demolished.
“All of these preventive measures were negated by the forced entry of the trespassers,” the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office report states.
Officers spent three hours clearing all 36 rooms, some of which were barricaded from the inside, after being called to the site on Thursday morning.
Two people were caught trying to escape and a minor was found there without a legal guardian.
Several of those arrested had outstanding arrest warrants, and in addition to the original trespassing charges, some were also charged with resisting violence, drug possession and providing false identification information.
Michael Wright and Darius Toliver
Amelia Close and Xavier Fayson
Derickj Sawyer and Christianna Thomas
A 10-foot chain-link fence, multiple locks and no-trespassing signs did not serve as a deterrent
Lacy Morelock and Demetrius Mercer
Destiny Crowley and Riham Ramadan
Jerome Mitchell and Donovan Grimes
Florida has the third-highest homeless population in the country, with more than 27,000 known to be homeless, in a state where home prices have risen 55 percent since the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Pensacola residents complained about an “invasion” of squatters and homeless people who have left the city “dangerous” and “unhealthy” with huge piles of trash and outdoor toilets.
Police in Alachua County have been called to the motel site more than 30 times this year, but this is the first time the disgruntled county, which bought the building for $2 million in 2020, has filed charges.
Police were also on scene in February when five people were suspected of breaking into eight units, causing water damage and broken doors and windows.
Alachua County resident Mark Sexton said, “We cannot afford any more damage to this location.”
Repairs to the former occupied building are currently underway and the district said a security guard has been hired
Three people were charged with trespassing in this case, while two others were arrested, one on an out-of-county warrant and the other for drug possession. Gainesville.com reported.
The county has applied for an additional $3 million in funding to renovate it as a homeless shelter with efficient housing and on-site services.
“As we go through the process with the state, we cannot afford any further damage to this location because the greater the damage, the more this renovation will cost,” Sexton said.
“In general, we don’t think the best way to deal with the homeless is to put them in jail where they won’t get the help they need, but this was a truly egregious situation with damages raging of thousands of dollars and unsanitary conditions.” .’