Samantha suffered a nervous breakdown 10 years ago not long after she ran into an old neighbour who was looking for a place to stay.

"At the time I knew this person, he was an upstanding citizen, [had] a job, had a wife and a small child," she said.

"When I ran into him he told me he was living on the street so I thought I'll invite him in for supper so at least he can have a good meal in his belly."

He arrived with his entire wardrobe and with, as she later learned, a drug addiction. Before long, her Ottawa home was no longer hers.

Samantha requested we don't use her real name in part because she's still afraid of the men who took over her home.

"Things just overwhelmed me to the point that I was virtually unable to function in any normal way. It was like being eaten by parasites. It was really nasty," she said.

35 home takeovers last year

Ottawa Police reported there were 35 home takeovers in 2013 and more than a dozen so far in 2014.

Unlike in a home invasion, where intruders forcibly enter a home and then leave, home takeovers are more subtle and more difficult to track, as a result.

Nancy Worsfold, crime prevention Ottawa

Nancy Worsfold of Crime Prevention Ottawa says her organization had no idea how common home takeovers were until they started asking front line social workers. (CBC)

That's partly because the tenant or homeowner often invites the first interloper into their home willingly because they are family or a friend like Samantha's neighbour, or because the tenant or homeowner has a mental health or addiction issue themselves.

Recent research from Crime Prevention Ottawa suggests police figures on home takeovers represent only a small fraction of the actual incidents.

Crime Prevention Ottawa head Nancy Worsfold said they found 72 per cent of social workers surveyed worked with clients who had been victims of home takeovers. Half of those social workers had dealt with 10 or more such clients.

"We had no idea of the volume," said Worsfold.

'They tell you that you don't have a choice'

Like Samantha, Richard Henry had let someone into his home out of generosity.

Five years ago Henry had finally found a home after moving to Ottawa from Nova Scotia, one he hoped would allow him to have visitation rights to his children.

Estranged from his family, his only friends were those he'd cultivated on Ottawa's streets. He invited them to his home for some warm food, clothing and shower.

But the visits became longer and when addicts started using his home to shoot up, their dealers started up too.

Henry relapsed back into alcoholism and started taking drugs those dealers offered him. When he decided enough was enough, he said he was in too deep.

"They just tell you that you don't have a choice. You just stay in that bedroom or you're going to get a beating or you're not going to get the drugs.

The apparent "complicity" of victims in home takeovers makes it hard for the victims to reach out to police or social agencies for help. That's because the victims fear they'll get in trouble too, said Shawn Carroll, the community development coordinator for the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities.

"It's a catch-22 and the police are struggling, so we have to try to figure out how we're going to create that relationship because if you are afraid of going to jail you are not going to call police. You are just going to remain a victim," said Carroll.

Police want victims to come forward

Richard Henry at home

Richard Henry has found a quiet home now. But he says five years ago his residence was taken over by drug dealers. (CBC)

Ottawa police have launched their own initiative, asking victims to contact them anonymously.

Staff Sgt. Ken Bryden said police might be better equipped to handle home takeovers if they could define what they were, possibly through legislation. But he said it's a learning curve for everyone involved and police need to do a better job exercising discretion when they determine someone in a drug den may be an unwilling participant.

In Samantha's case, she contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized. After eight months, the interlopers left but not before she says they stole nearly everything in the home, including the door knobs.

For Henry, he said the dealers were around his home for three months before they moved onto the next home. He said before he could recover from his addictions, he had to totally dissociate himself from the people he had first invited in.

"It was definitely an obstacle to recovery," he said.

Samantha's advice for people is to get to know their neighbours.

"If they see people coming and going that they didn't before maybe they can keep an eye on things and reach out to police," she said.