Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Homeless man remains un-evicted

'Birddog' sets up tent near Lion's Park

A homeless man who has squatted on private property west of Hailey for several years and keeps a string of nine cats, remains officially unevicted, but has taken steps to ward off a trespass citation, or possibly even arrest, at least for the time being.

Richard Lee Grace, more commonly known as 'Birddog,' has set up a tent that is ostensibly not on the property from which he's been told to leave. The tent is to the south of the A-frame structure that Grace built from scrap lumber on private property near Lion's Park along the Big Wood River.

"He told me the cats are going to stay in the A-frame and he's going to sleep in the tent," said Hailey resident Jeramie Dreyfuss, who started helping Grace after she read a story about him in the Idaho Mountain Express. "He said he wouldn't be there, but he wouldn't be too far away.

"He said he'll move in the spring—he just wants to get through the winter," she said.

Meanwhile, the Blaine County Sheriff's Office has yet to serve Grace with a trespass citation, even though property owner William F. Simons wants Grace off his land.

Sheriff's Lt. Jay Davis said Simons hasn't signed the citation and that his signature is required before the citation can be served.

Grace has lived on and off for several years in the same area. Simons, who lives in Boise, said he became aware that Grace was living on his property after reading the Nov. 19 story and that he couldn't ignore the situation because of possible liability.

Simons and sheriff's deputies met with Grace on Dec. 4 and told him he had two weeks to leave. That deadline expired on Dec. 18.

"I'm selling that piece of property so I don't have that headache anymore," Simons said last week.

"I think he needs help," he said. "I have empathy for him, but I feel that's why we pay taxes for social services."

Sheriff Walt Femling said Grace could be arrested if he's found on the property and refuses to leave.

"He's been run off before and came back," Femling said.

The sheriff said squatters have been a problem in the Lion's Park area for the past decade. While there is only Grace and one other man living there now, in the past there have been up to 30 people squatting on private or public land in the area.

"We've had multiple complaints," Femling said. "We've had shots fired down there. We've had people harassed. There's just a whole lot of issues over the past 10 years. I can tell you that the complaints about people squatting down there far outweigh the support. We've had a lot of requests to clean it up."

Dreyfuss, the former wife of actor Richard Dreyfuss, is one of several people trying to help Grace. Former Hailey Police Chief Brian McNary, among others, has written on local Web sites that he's known Grace for many years and will do what he can to help him.

Dreyfuss has given Grace sleeping bags and blankets, six large plastic containers to store his possessions and cat food for the felines. She took all nine of them to be spayed or neutered free of charge earlier this month at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.

Dreyfuss said Grace sometimes talks about not leaving the property and resisting attempts to have him removed.

"What's scary about this is it may lead him to being killed," she said. "I hope the owner will back off and let him stay until spring.

"Do something nice for him for Christmas," she said. "Take him some cat food. The truth is this guy needs help, and this is a town that can help him."

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