Paterson, N.J. — An 86-year-old grandmother lost her home one month ago and now, in a return trip to see if there was anything left she could salvage, she found needles and squatters.
Betty Hester's Auburn Street home was destroyed on Oct. 31. Hester found people taking her belongings when she came back.
"I came through one day and they had a U-haul and they were carrying everything out of the house,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Today, PIX11 witnessed two women leaving the home’s basement. One muttered an apology on the way out. A needle and drugs were left behind on the stairs.
Squatters apparently found her daughter's credit cards in the wreckage.
"They took my credit cards and charged up my money,” said Darlene Hester.
The front door stands wide open. Hester said she has asked the city to board up or otherwise secure the home from squatters, but the city of Paterson has failed to do so.
"They said they were gonna speak to me about boarding up the house,” she said. "Automatically - it should have been done.”
Squatters allegedly caused the fire in the first place. Eyewitnesses told PIX11 they saw people using drugs in a neighboring abandoned home before the fire spread to Hester’s house.
Hester has lived in the house since she purchased it in her 20s. She told PIX11 in October that the neighborhood was a beautiful place back then.
She no longer wants to live in the neighborhood because of all the drugs and crime. But she did say the squatters tearing apart what’s left of her home is like salt in an open wound.
"Maybe in this locality, they just let you go. They don’t care nothing about you,” she said.
PIX11 did call the interim mayor’s office for some answers about what the city can do to help. We have not yet heard back.
Councilwoman Ruby Cotton did respond to our request for comment. She said she is making calls to see what can be done. She also said the city did not board up Hester’s house yet because they plan to demolish it anyway.
Hester’s family has set up a GoFundMe page for her benefit.