Palo Alto residents have something else to watch for besides burglars these days -- squatters. And these individuals don't inhabit dilapidated structures. They're going for empty mansions in some of the city's toniest neighborhoods.
Police arrested Matthew Hicks, 38, for trespassing on Tuesday, April 24, after a resident thought he was burglarizing a Crescent Park home in the 500 block of East Crescent Drive between University Avenue and Southwood Drive, Sgt. Brian Philip said. The resident saw Hicks leave the property, which is under construction, at about 1:30 p.m., and police found him on Hamilton Avenue.
But Philip said that Hicks wasn't stealing from the home. He was living there. Police are coming upon more people who are taking up residence in vacant Palo Alto homes, he said.
"There are so many homes under construction. It does happen more often now," he said.
Squatters find the homes attractive because they are in safe, quiet neighborhoods and are frequently obscured by cloth-covered fencing. They set up residence in abandoned homes or ones that are being remodeled, he said.
Philip said the squatters don't destroy the house. They are just looking for shelter and a way to set up camp. They are most often detected when workers stumble upon their belongings.
"People are desperate for a place to stay," he said.
The squatters haven't set any fires in the homes, Philip said. But they will sometimes use the back yard to set up a kitchen.
"We had one on Northampton where the guy was barbecuing in the back yard," he said.
Palo Alto Fire Battalion Chief Chris Woodard said his department hasn't encountered many squatters. He said the problem is a big issue in larger cities, such as Detroit, and in some areas of Massachusetts.
Philip said neighbors should keep an eye on properties that are vacant or being remodeled. Some signs of squatters include lights or flashlights used in the house or shopping carts and bicycles sitting in the yard. Often the construction fencing has been pulled out and moved to gain entry, he said.