Frustrated Bywater homeowner blames squatters for devastating fire

Frustrated Bywater homeowner blames squatters for devastating fire

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A frustrated Ninth Ward homeowner is now without a home after he says repeated complaints about squatters in the home next door went unanswered.

He blames those squatters for the devastating fire that destroyed his home Monday morning.

"They tell us there's nothing you can do about squatters. What do you mean? Look at my house!" said homeowner Ronald Kelsey in front of the charred rubble.

A squatter was blamed for a devastating fire on Canal Street earlier this year, and squatters were also blamed for a warehouse fire on N. Prieur five years ago that killed eight people.

"It ranks as one of our deadliest fires in the history of New Orleans," said then-fire Superintendent Charles Parent back in 2010.

Now Kelsey and his family are burned out of their Piety St. home after a fire he said could have been avoided.

"I bet if I was in Destrehan or Metairie and somebody called and said they had squatters, they'd have a SWAT team out there," said Kelsey.

Kelsey loves his neighborhood and New Orleans, but he said homeowners like him shouldn't have to put up with squatters living free and posing threats. He said he repeatedly called police, but nothing was ever done.

"Because it's the Ninth Ward, they say 'they can deal with it.' C'mon, we're people too," he said.

NOPD said officers have been called to Kelsey's home three times this year, but never in response to a call about squatters.

Kelsey said squatters are a persistent problem, and he said many boarded-up homes have squatters inside late at night.

"In 2008 there were over 3,000 squatters now we have 211," said Martha Kegel with Unity for the Homeless.

The mission of Homeless is to find homes for vagrants. Kegel said anyone who has problems with squatters should give them a  call, and they'll send out a five-member response team.

"We have numerous examples of people who cuss us out, but eventually we get them to accept services," Kegel said.

The offer of help is too late for Kelsey.

"They aint' gonna find out who set this fire right here," he said.

He does have insurance, and he plans to rebuild.

"I'm not leaving the Nine, bruh," Kelsey said.

The New Orleans Fire Department is investigating. In the meantime, the Kelsey family will stay at a hotel.

Unity for the Homeless urges anyone with a squatter problem to call (504) 899-4589 ext 101.

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