City and White Lakes staff work to stop trespassers

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- With standing water, black mold, asbestos, White Lakes Mall is a dangerous place. When the city learned a homeless group was living in the building, they took steps to move them.

“We were made aware of the article that WIBW put out, so we contacted the White Lakes staff immediately,” said Mike Haugen with the City’s Code Compliance.

Haugen, working with White Lakes maintenance, saw people's concerns on social media, and went to work. The Topeka Rescue Mission learned of possibly 15 people living in the building.

“We found out that the homeless people that were living on the property were actually on the porch of the Mexican restaurant and that staff had already remedied that situation,” said Haugen.

“It was a group of a few homeless living up in this area here. They had pretty much set up shop. There was a point that we asked them to vacate the property, in which they did,” said Dale Banker, owner of Comprehensive Maintenance and Repair.

Banker’s company has been hired to maintain the condemned property, while they wait for it to be sold. He found beds set up, trash scattered, and clothes hanging up to dry. While the homeless camped primarily in one area, the city found signs people moved throughout the building.

“They have done their best to pry open doors, break windows and whatever they do. I think a lot of that was scrappers trying to reclaim things in there that’s not theirs, which is theft,” Banker warned.

They tell us it remains dangerous and would not allow us inside. Only a view through the windows. The building has mold and debris, plus standing water in the basement. Utilities are cut off. Westar even removed all the transformers, eliminating the risk of electrocution.

But the dangers are a problem even for police if they'd have to respond.

“The important things is for the officer to make an evaluation as to their safety. If they feel it’s a building that they are not ready to enter then they have to make that call. We need them to be safe,” said City Manager Brent Trout.

“What we really want to stress is we don’t want anybody getting hurt. Whether it be the homeless. Whether it be people who are just curious that want to come in and reminisce. We just can’t have them inside taking that chance,” Banker explained.

Several 13 NEWS viewers asked why the city doesn't just tear down the building. State law does not allow it. Plus it’s still for sale.

Trout said he hopes someone buys it soon. The city is even looking at making a tiff district to help the process.