ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Neighbors of an abandoned home that went up in flames earlier this week, believe squatters could be to blame for the fire. “It was just bound to happen,” said Jacob Montoya, who owns a wood working business close to the home on Zearing Avenue near Old Town.

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Montoya says he’s been anticipating something devastating would happen to the property. “Same thing as always,” Montoya said. “Squatters next door – then just as we suspected, there ends up being a fire.”

Earlier this week, the property next door to Montoya’s woodworking businesses went up in flames, putting Montoya’s business in danger. KRQE reached out to the city to find out which department is responsible for dealing with squatter situations, specifically getting the squatters out of home like the one on Zearing. We were referred to the new Albuquerque Community Safety Department.

“ACS is the third branch of public safety here in Albuquerque,” said Jasmine Desiderio, the Deputy Director of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department.

ACS sends trained responders with a background in mental health and social services to calls that don’t require a badge or a gun. “The idea is to make sure that our responders are able to meet the needs of those individuals at that time,” Desiderio explained.

Since the launch of ACS in September, Desiderio says they’ve responded to more than 800 calls. Of those, at least 500 have dealt with homeless people. The department does not have a specific call type for squatters, and they emphasize their job is not enforcement, but rather to help people. So what happens if the people they’re trying to help refuse the assistance? Desiderio says they can call APD or AFR, but it’s not standard procedure.

ACS focuses primarily on calls for service involving substance abuse, mental and behavioral health, and addiction. They say sometimes they will respond to more emergent calls alongside APD.