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Posted on Thu, Nov. 18, 2010 By DANA DiFILIPPO Philadelphia Daily News difilid@phillynews.com 215-854-5934

THE FORECLOSURE notices have piled up, and collection agents call weekly.

http://www.philly.com/dailynews/multimedia/BC679067330001.html
Esther “Moya” Smith fears it won’t be long before the bank changes the locks and boots her from the redbrick rowhouse in Olney where her mother moved the brood 15 years ago.

But she won’t go. She can’t go, she says.

At 31, she’s the reluctant head of her household since her mother died two years ago, leaving her in charge of her two teenage sisters and baby nephew. Financial troubles that started with her mother’s medical and funeral bills mounted until she fell seven months behind on mortgage payments, prompting foreclosure.

So, today, Smith, her neighbors and community activists will gather at her house on Widener Street near 3rd. They plan to stay there – camping out “for however long it takes” – to fight the foreclosure and ensure that Smith’s family keeps the house.

“We are willing to go to jail. This family will not go out on the [Roosevelt] Boulevard for the holidays,” said Cheri Honkala, of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. “We shouldn’t allow banks to come into neighborhoods and empty buildings and create crackhouses. In this economy, they should be forced to modify [mortgages]. If they board the house up, we will take the boards off and move everybody back in.”

In Philadelphia, a city with 40,000 vacant or abandoned properties, squatters are as plentiful as Wawas and water ice.

But many of today’s squatters aren’t the wretches and drug-addled runaways of the imagination: They’re poor families, like Esther Smith and her charges, so desperate to stay together that they’ll move into a blighted property – or squat in their own foreclosed home.

No one tracks the number of squatters. But homeless and anti-poverty advocates say that the unrelenting recession has kept homeless shelters full daily, forcing those without homes to bunk with family or friends, or to squat in abandoned buildings.

“It’s the reality show that no one sees,” Honkala said.

Homelessness in Philadelphia has risen sharply since 2000, when there were 1,175 homeless people in the city, according to Project HOME, a homeless-advocacy group that keeps a census for the city of people living in shelters and on the streets. This year, that population has grown to 1,720, Project HOME found.

“More people are losing their homes and their jobs, and we’re absolutely seeing more families double up with [other] family members,” said Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project.

Laura I. Weinbaum, Project HOME’s director of public policy, added, “Anecdotally, we are seeing more people in squatting situations.”

Smith never thought that she’d become a squatter in her own home.

Two years ago, she worked an overnight shift as a campus shuttle-bus driver at the University of Pennsylvania.

In August 2008, her mother died. Smith’s youngest sister, Monica, then 10, quickly devolved into grief-fueled insomnia and misbehavior at school. After missing work several times to help her sister, Smith got fired, she said.

“I felt hurt, because I needed the income, but I needed even more to be at home for her,” Smith said.

Smith cobbled together an income doing odd jobs in home construction, car repair and baby-sitting – anything that allowed her to focus on her sister first.

But with an inconsistent income, she soon fell behind the seven months on her $645 monthly mortgage bills.

In early summer, she applied to her mortgage company, Texas-based American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc., for a loan modification. They denied her application, saying that her debt-to-income ratio was too high, meaning that she made too little money to qualify for a modification.

She also applied to several foreclosure-assistance programs run by social-service agencies, but she was told they had run out of money.

In July, she said, she started collecting $316 a month in welfare.

In August, her sister Barbara – who was living with her husband, an Army soldier stationed in Texas who will deploy to Iraq in January, and their 2-year-old son, Jovanie – moved back in with Smith to help with the bills. Smith and her sister thought that Barbara’s income as a housekeeper at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, along with $200 monthly from her husband’s soldier’s pay, might be enough to fend off foreclosure.

But last month, Smith received her first foreclosure notice.

Since then, she’s gotten calls several times a week from the company, demanding payment.

The increased pressure to pay prompted Honkala’s group to champion her case.

“[Leaving the home] is not an option,” Honkala said last week. “There’s a growing army around her.”

Honkala has plenty of experience in standoffs and sit-ins.

As founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, she set up tent cities for homeless people on vacant lots and led marches to raise awareness about poverty and homelessness in the early 2000s. She disappeared for a few years to help her sister and others fight foreclosure in Minnesota and to raise her son, Guillermo, now 8.

But she’s back in Philadelphia and ready for battle, with her new group, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

The group teaches “foreclosure classes” and encourages squatting, or “homesteading” as Honkala prefers to call it, to people like Smith. Lessons include topics such as how to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience, how to prove residency in order to get utilities – even when possession of a home is illegal – and how to explain to children what’s happening.

“They can call us a criminal all they want,” Honkala said, “but we think we’ll be upholding higher laws: laws of humanity. We are good mothers and sisters and caregivers who are going to care for our families however we have to.”

In Smith’s case, it’s too early to tell whether today’s planned sit-in will be more consciousness-raising or civil disobedience.

Philippa Brown, a spokeswoman for Smith’s lienholder, American Mortgage, said her company is considering modifying Smith’s $60,000 mortgage, but she wouldn’t release details. The foreclosure, which is temporarily on hold until the company decides whether to alter the loan, will move forward unless Smith clears her outstanding debt, Brown said.

Smith is delinquent by about $9,000 since April; about half is mortgage payments, while the other is penalties and fees, Smith said.

Now that her little sister Monica has improved, Smith said she has applied for numerous jobs, including retail and janitorial positions, as well as jobs with SEPTA, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Prisons System. But she’s had no luck landing anything.

One morning last week, sassy, saggy-diapered Jovanie frolicked in the family’s living room, where they still keep candles lighted and glasses full of water for their mother.

“They give evolution to the spirit,” Smith said.

As December approaches, Smith said she grows more depressed. Barbara, Monica and Jovanie all have December birthdays. A foreclosure and eviction, Smith noted sourly, would be lousy birthday gifts.

“The sad thing is with most of these struggles [to stave off homelessness], we’ve lost them,” Honkala said. “This time, hopefully, there will be an angel.”

Smith, sifting through old photos of her mother, smiled and agreed: “Yes. Hopefully.”

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LIVE FROM TENT CITY

Real Life, Take One.

Watch Costa Mantis‘ videos from Sacramento’s Safe Ground movement: http://livefromtentcity.com/blog/

Here is a link to video (by Costa Mantis) from PEOPLE PROJECT’s Safe Sleeping Space on the City Hall Parking lot (Nov, Dec 2009), raided by the City of Eureka and EPD on the 33rd night: https://peopleproject.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/we-need-some-safe-ground-in-eureka/

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And we have a revised lawsuit challenging Arcata’s systematic violation of houseless peoples’ rights!

 

Please send PEOPLE PROJECT writings about your experiences with the Arcata Police Department and/or the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department with regards to your EXISTING WITHOUT A HOUSE (i.e. being ticketed for sleeping on public property, being harassed for looking poor, having your gear stolen by police). You can email peopleproject@riseup.net or call (707) 442-7465 to talk.

HERE is the new Complaint (fancy word for lawsuit) arising from the Spring 2007 encampment demonstration in Arcata.

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Tent Cities in America: A Pacific Coast Report

A Report from National Coalition for the Homeless

The National Coalition for the Homeless announces the first in a series of reports on the growing number of tent cities across North America. This new report released March 4, 2010 is focusing on west coast encampments.

• Take care of yourself.
• Take care of others.
• Take care of this place

Three simple basic rules of Village of Hope in Fresno, CA.

Tent Cities in America, A Pacific Coast Report lays the groundwork for:
• Understanding the diversity and conditions under which tent cities are created
• Comparing various levels of community acceptance, regulation, and governance
• Advocating safe, legal, and effective methods and practices of encampment

“In the absence of proper shelter, it is the basic right of any living being to construct a temporary one.”

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click here for VIDEO from Fresno

Posted by John Crockford on January 28, 2010

Police Evict Homeless People in Fresno…

read this Indybay article by Mike Rhodes, with photos

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Support Tent Cities! Support Safe Sleeping spaces for ALL!!

The below account is from a mainstream T.V. station, Jan 28, 2010

Homeless Resisting Move from Downtown Encampment

More than a dozen homeless people in downtown Fresno are being forced to move from their makeshift camp.

The homeless people are living in tents and sleeping on the ground on privately owned property at the corner of Ventura and F Street.

Work crews began showing up to fence off the property before noon but many of the homeless people living at the vacant lot refused to gather their belongings and leave and actually engaged in a shouting match with city officials.

One homeless man said, “I do not give them permission to enter my home without a valid court order or search warrant. I’m homeless… I live out here… this is my home.”

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, “The individuals that are on this property today are in violation of trespass laws. We are trying to work with them in terms of finding a solution; a long term and a short term solution.”

The city decided to extend the moving deadline until the end of the day to allow the homeless to gather their belongings and vacate the property. City officials say they are also giving out Section 8 housing voucher applications. [appropriately known as Section WAIT…]

If everything is not moved out by the end of the day on Thursday, the city will label the belongings and store them and the owners will have 90 days to pick them up.

Watch the TV news video: http://www.cbs47.tv/news/local/story/Homeless-Resisting-Move-from-Downtown-Encampment/7pXBprbjB0yCkkrEPOQtFQ.cspx

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