Abandoned buildings shelter homeless squatters

WICHITA, Kansas – With frigid temperatures expected this weekend, the homeless try and find a warm place to stay and sometimes it means sleeping in abandoned buildings.

But, area shelters and authorities are trying to give them another option.

KSN spoke with the realtor who is trying to sell an abandoned church property and he said they put the for sale sign up not even a week ago.

In that time, he’s received two calls about homeless people taking shelter in the church.

During the winter months, law enforcement say it becomes more common for people to call an abandoned building home.

This a familiar site during the winter months, makeshift beds and furniture inside or outside abandoned buildings, a home for those who don’t have one.

“It does increase dramatically during the winter months, they’ll often times try to find warmer areas inside abandoned buildings when its cooler,” said Officer Nate Schweithale.

Officer Schwiethale with WPD’s homeless outreach team says every year, during the cold winter months they see a sharp increase of homeless people squatting in abandoned buildings across the city.

“It’d be double or triple versus during the summer.”

Schweithale said squatting is illegal and could get someone charged with trespassing, but it can also pose a big safety concern.

“They start fires in there to keep warm, there are smoke issues, they can catch fire and not know what to do.”

“They’ll get inside the buildings, in the past we’ve seen people go in and start fires and cause a lot of damage to the facility,” said Sandy Swank, Director of Homeless Services at Interfaith Ministries.

Swank says their men’s shelter can hold over a hundred people at any given night. She says the positives heavily outweigh the negatives for the homeless to come to a shelter, rather than trying to brave the elements during the cold winter months.

“They’d have to figure out some way to get heat, if they didn’t have any heat, if they stay in there without it, it’s just as cold inside the building as it is outside, so there still in danger of frostbite,” said Swank.
Officer Schwiethale said when the temperatures start to get really cold, they beef up their outreach efforts by trying to get out and warn the homeless and try to get them to use one of the shelters.

The Homeless Outreach Team is a group of three police officers who specialize in trying to keep homeless people out of jail and in shelters instead.

Over the past two years, HOT has placed more than 300 homeless in permanent or transitional housing and nearly 200 more in shelters.

They do take tips from the community and you can reach them by calling 854-3013.

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