The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has taken action against squatters who were found living in a Florida motel that the county had plans to renovate into a homeless shelter.
On October 26, 19 individuals were arrested at the former Budget Inn building, located at 4401 S.W. 13th St. in Gainesville, Florida.
The development comes after numerous calls to law enforcement to remove individuals from the property, which had previously resulted in no arrests.
According to the sheriff’s office, deputies had responded to the vacant motel more than 30 times throughout the year, with an incident report filed in six of those instances.
However, recently, county staff directed deputies to press charges against the squatters on the property.
The individuals who were arrested are facing charges related to causing damage to the building, engaging in drug activity and allegedly tapping into the electricity supply.
County officials estimate that the damage caused amounts to approximately $15,000.
Mark Sexton, the communications director for Alachua County, commented on the situation.
“It was a dangerous situation, but there was evidence of heavy drug use, there were thousands of dollars in damage to the facility we want to renovate, and we don’t want it to be damaged anymore before we get to the renovations.”
The property had already been surrounded by a fence and posted with no trespassing signs. Following the incident, the doors and windows were boarded up to prevent further incidents.
In an effort to secure the premises, the county has also announced plans to hire a security guard for the facility.
Officials say the motel was purchased by Alachua County commissioners in 2020 for a sum of over $2 million with the intention of converting it into a homeless shelter.
The plan was to collaborate with GRACE Marketplace, a local homeless shelter, for a transitional housing program. However, the building has remained vacant as the county awaits funding approval from the state to proceed with the renovation.
“We wish we could get to this project right now. We are all chomping at the bit to get this project done, but federal, state, county … it’s complicated, and we have to follow all the rules,” Sexton explained.
According to reports, the county is currently waiting for $3 million in funding to commence work on the motel, which is expected to take approximately six months to complete once the budget is finalized.
The delay in renovation poses a significant concern for officials as the cost of repairs continues to rise due to ongoing damage caused by trespassers.