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Going Way Too Far to Help the Homeless

By Eva Rodriguez

This is -- to state the obvious -- a very tough time for a lot of us. Unemployment has soared and foreclosures are at unprecedented levels in many parts of the country. Extraordinary help is needed -- and being offered by both public- and private-sector organizations. But some groups have gone way, way, way too far in their quest to help the unfortunate.

The New York Times reports this morning on a growing trend: organizations, many of them advocates for the homeless, moving people into foreclosed homes after the owners have left or been evicted. By and large, the Times reports, these groups don't seek the blessing of the bank that now owns the property. They just scour public records for foreclosure notices, visit these empty properties to ensure they're in livable condition and then proceed to change the locks and shuttle new occupants in.

So what's wrong with spontaneously matching homeless people with people-less homes? Just about everything.

Tough times do not give even those hardest hit carte blanche to break the law, and I don't see how what these folks are doing is anything short of trespassing, or worse. It's one thing if they get permission from the banks; after all, it might make sense for financial institutions to allow temporary occupants into empty homes that would otherwise fall apart from neglect or be vandalized. But nothing gives these folks the right to waltz onto private property and claim it as their own, even if only for a few days. Under their logic, what keeps them from barging into a house while the owners are away on vacation, claiming the home wasn't actively being lived in at the moment, anyway? Is this okay as long as they don't leave a sink full of dirty dishes?

I don't mean to disparage the plight of those who find themselves out on the streets, desperate for even one night of comfort away from the elements and, perhaps, other human beings who prey on the vulnerable. But nothing gives them or their advocates the right to violate others' property -- even if that property is owned by an institution, rather than an individual.

By Eva Rodriguez  | April 10, 2009; 1:47 PM ET
Categories:  Rodriguez  | Tags:  Eva Rodriguez  
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Comments

You are right.

At the same time you and the administration miss the point that there are no jobs in America and the wealth of America is gone. We have descended to the level of a third world nation and the government and you still believe that the old policies that worked when there was great wealth in America will work again.

The homeless are able to take over houses because the banks know they are worthless in a country without wealth and without jobs. Many banks are simply abandoning houses.

According to the Washington Post IBM fired 5000 American workers and shipped their jobs to India. In a nation without jobs this is what the government and you should be concerned about.

Americans jobs are sent overseas, and American jobs that can not be shipped overseas are taken by 12 million illegal aliens.

Millions of Americans are unemployed and millions of Americans will shortly become unemployed. The government does nothing and so we have become a third world nation.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 10, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Aside from the organized trespassing, other serious issues arise as well.

Who would be responsible if someone, while illegally squatting on these properties, was injured? If someone fell down the stairs due to loose carpeting? If someone was electrocuted because of faulty wiring? If there was a house fire for any number of reasons?

What if it were your property and people just felt entitled to move in because it was empty?

Is it ok if I change the locks on your car and drive it around because your not using it at the moment?

Posted by: spamsux1 | April 10, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

My gut reaction is to oppose this action by advocates of the homeless up to a point. I think changing the locks is wrong. However, if the property is abandoned and a homeless person takes shelter inside, I don't really care. More power to them. They will eventually be evicted and move on. I hope they enjoy the temporary shelter they find. I don't begrudge them that.

They are trying to cope with the society in which they live. It's a society that doesn't really care how many people are homeless provided they stay out of our way and don't bother the rest of us.

Stealing is wrong, but people steal to avoid starvation. I can imagine why people would trespass to avoid being on the street. When the properties are ready for occupation, the homeless occupant will be evicted.

Posted by: Matthew_DC | April 10, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

The second "your" in my last sentence should be "you're".
It pi$$es me off when other people make that Stupid/Lazy/Ignorant mistake.

Posted by: spamsux1 | April 10, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"Third World nation"? Really? I'm not trying to sugar coat things here -- because there are certainly parts of our country that resemble a Third World nation -- but I think bsallamack engages in a bit of hyperbole by referring to the U.S. as a "Third World" nation. I'm not saying we won't get there, but I've been to "Third World" countries and I don't think we fall into that category. Yet.

Posted by: goodwinc | April 10, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Matthew_DC says:
"It's a society that doesn't really care how many people are homeless provided they stay out of our way and don't bother the rest of us."

This country spends billions, public and private, on helping the homeless.

There are many, many problems that plague the world Matthew, just because they exist doesn't mean people don't care.

Posted by: spamsux1 | April 10, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with people when we set our moral standards to meet what we think is right or wrong.

Posted by: bigman5 | April 10, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Actually, under a utilitarian theory of property rights, a person has every right to assert control over a vacant dwelling or plot. We recognize this principle to a very limited extent in the laws of adverse possession. If you wrongly possess land openly for a specified period of time, you become the lawful owner. Apparently Eva skipped law school.

Posted by: ews25 | April 10, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

This really is an uninformed article. Even the use of the term 'homeless' is used in a 1980's context. This article, allegedly an opinion piece, is more like propaganda against a specific group of people, which dates to the 1940's. Opinion is fine, but one should read at least ONE piece of literature that has been published in the past 20 years. Or sleep on the street for three days with someone who has no where else to go before arriving at such sweeping conclusions. Not having a place to sleep at night is a desperate situation and it calls for extraordinary measures. I would do it too if I didn't own a condo downtown.

Posted by: rtmahon | April 10, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

To all those comparing this squatting to "stealing a car" or "breaking into someone's home," I suggest you familiarize yourself with the law.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_possession

Posted by: caliente1 | April 10, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

"Third World nation"? Really? I'm not trying to sugar coat things here -- because there are certainly parts of our country that resemble a Third World nation -- but I think bsallamack engages in a bit of hyperbole by referring to the U.S. as a "Third World" nation. I'm not saying we won't get there, but I've been to "Third World" countries and I don't think we fall into that category. Yet.

Posted by: goodwinc

****************************
Characteristics of third world nation

No jobs and large numbers unemployed.

No manufacturing and dependent upon imports for common manufactured products.

Major export is agriculture products.

Banks and financial system are unregulated and can not be trusted.

Exploitation of under class for cheap labor.

Large deficit of government.

Large population of homeless.

Large number of children living in poverty and malnourished.

Large number of population dependent upon food subsidy of government.

Short term ineffective government policies that do not address serious problems.

No medical care for large numbers of the population.

I still stand my statement that the United States has become a third world nation.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 10, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Sorry folks, but nobody deserves to use something owned by someone else. It's perfectly fine to ask to use it and admirable for that use to be granted. But it makes perfect sense why a bank (or a person) may not welcome a stranger no matter how much that stranger needs it.

For one thing, suppose said stranger dies because he fell down the stairs. Suddenly the owner faces possible legal issues. Or maybe a couple of the guests get in a fight and damage the walls. Who pays for it?

If you think that someone's dire straits are a justification, why wait until someone vacates? Just go ahead and barge in whether it's occupied or not.

Oh, and to the poster who insists the US is now a Third World country, you have apparently never been outside the developed world.

Everyone is entitled to strive, to pursue happiness. But there never has been and never will be a guarantee they will actually catch it.

Posted by: JeffRandom | April 10, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

The woman writing this article is a callous person. Has she done anything to help the homeless? Has she advocated for low cost housing or for living wage ordinances? Probably not, she just wants to deny a tiny amount of shelter to people already in misery and pain.

Posted by: skylark1 | April 10, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if other Western nations do so much better than us in a majority of performance league-tables because they have superior systems of social welfare--? That isn't to say the USA doesn't rule heh heh...but ok, here's the bigger picture, to me:

Social Welfare systems began to become a necessary feature in societies like Europe in the 14th and 15th century because of population concentration around the more successful market towns (like Lyons in the 15th c) then negative changes in the market brought on social unrest cuz too many people lost work through no fault of their own. Wave after wave of growth and depression rolled along; governments in Europe began to realize that the private sector was unable to prevent the kind of social breakdown which recurred with each collapse--they actually began to make the poor register and obtain permission slips for food, assessments being made on a door-to-door basis during some periods.

All kinds of models to regulate the poor and mendicancy in general evolved and were successively expanded or retracted at need.

One time long ago, if you didn't have permission to beg, you were whipped 'till the blood ran'.

Concentrated efforts to regulate the poor and make provision for them (shelter and food) began in earnest in the 17th century all over Western Europe--it was a necessity in order to protect social order--uprisings repeatedly occurred and were usually put down severely but provision was eventually made to address the causes of the disorder (job displacement due to technological advances or job-flight for examples). Does our own recent experience of the Hoovervilles correlate to this sort of whacky market ebb and flow?

So, like the writer of this article takes a simmplistic moralistic stance and says 'hey homelessness is bad and the circumstances causing it are pretty tough but..."...but do what?

I say, take the desperate bold and emergency action that these insightful humane and proactive advocates are taking to help the people horrified to find themselves in the position of even having to consider an escape from the elements in the first place with no other options but a prayer.

Perhaps our captains of industry (many of whom jump into government in order to service themselves in industry) ought to quit exporting our jobs and take the long view that we are all in this together and aim to realise their profits a little more sustainably, with a higher moral regard for those of us less fortunate who are their neighbors and rely on their industry for our bread.

This article and any consideration of the topic of poverty in a market that is unfair even when it is going strong is superficial at best and unspeakably offensive at worst. I was psyched to her people are being helped in this crazy way--better than nothing where our system isn't prepared to handle this depth of this particular downturn.

Posted by: BoulderedMoraine | April 10, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if other Western nations do so much better than us in a majority of performance league-tables because they have superior systems of social welfare--? That isn't to say the USA doesn't rule heh heh...but ok, here's the bigger picture, to me:

Social Welfare systems began to become a necessary feature in societies like Europe in the 14th and 15th century because of population concentration around the more successful market towns (like Lyons in the 15th c) then negative changes in the market brought on social unrest cuz too many people lost work through no fault of their own. Wave after wave of growth and depression rolled along; governments in Europe began to realize that the private sector was unable to prevent the kind of social breakdown which recurred with each collapse--they actually began to make the poor register and obtain permission slips for food, assessments being made on a door-to-door basis during some periods.

All kinds of models to regulate the poor and mendicancy in general evolved and were successively expanded or retracted at need.

One time long ago, if you didn't have permission to beg, you were whipped 'till the blood ran'.

Concentrated efforts to regulate the poor and make provision for them (shelter and food) began in earnest in the 17th century all over Western Europe--it was a necessity in order to protect social order--uprisings repeatedly occurred and were usually put down severely but provision was eventually made to address the causes of the disorder (job displacement due to technological advances or job-flight for examples). Does our own recent experience of the Hoovervilles correlate to this sort of whacky market ebb and flow?

So, like the writer of this article takes a simmplistic moralistic stance and says 'hey homelessness is bad and the circumstances causing it are pretty tough but..."...but do what?

I say, take the desperate bold and emergency action that these insightful humane and proactive advocates are taking to help the people horrified to find themselves in the position of even having to consider an escape from the elements in the first place with no other options but a prayer.

Perhaps our captains of industry (many of whom jump into government in order to service themselves in industry) ought to quit exporting our jobs and take the long view that we are all in this together and aim to realise their profits a little more sustainably, with a higher moral regard for those of us less fortunate who are their neighbors and rely on their industry for our bread.

This article and any consideration of the topic of poverty in a market that is unfair even when it is going strong is superficial at best and unspeakably offensive at worst. I was psyched to her people are being helped in this crazy way--better than nothing where our system isn't prepared to handle this depth of this particular downturn.

Posted by: BoulderedMoraine | April 10, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

There is widespread disrespect and disobedience for many laws in this country, so this hehavior is hardly surprising at all. According to the rationale of people who support the actions taken, as described in this article, advocacy groups should be allowed to break into anyone who has second or vacation homes to allow homeless people to live there indefinitely.

Anyone, using the "logic" of these advocacy groups, not merely temporarily homeless people, would have the right to break into any unoccupied house because of foreclosure, have one or two relatives, friends or hire a couple individuals live there and claim the property.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | April 10, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorry I didn't mean to post that twice and I do NOT claim any special intellectual or moral high-ground--writing that took more intellectual power than I probably possess but the point is that history is involved here...desperate measures for desperate times and all that sort of thing--the regulating of the poor and relief has 500 years of precedent--occupying a few houses out of desperation for a little while is definitely no big deal--as long as it's for a little while.

"Property is theft therefore theft is property."

Just kidding!

Posted by: BoulderedMoraine | April 10, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

What's the harm? Resources are meant to be used. I'm from Mumbai, India; where millions of people do not have a dwelling worth the name and so many hundred and thousands live in the open. There is a big colony built by Air India for its staff spending over $.10 million ten years ago. Even today it is unoccupied because of some dispute or other. Eventually these buildings may collapse before any one settle down. There are so many such flats and buildings all around while people live in the open.

Forget about third world or first world. Human beings are human beings and there is no justification in wasting resources in the name of sancticity of property right. After all no body is objecting the property owner, be it an individual or instituion, from renting it out at what ever possible rent. And if there is none to take the property on rent, then it should be given free to the homeless till an occupant who could buy it or pay the rent is found.

That is what we need and not protect the right of the property owner. Every property is meant for use and not to be kept vacant to be destroyed out of neglect.

Harikumar from Mumbai India

Posted by: mkharikumaryahoocouk | April 10, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Americans are obviously crazy!
Apparently allowing a bank manager to sleep well at night is far more important than letting an average American citizen sleep inside at night.

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | April 10, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

If the author of this piece of tripe read the article thoroughly she might have noticed that the squatters are actually doing the banks a favor. In many areas foreclosed homes are left virtually abandoned by the banks that own them. Vandals and thieves break into them and strip out the plumbing and appliances and completely trash the interiors. Drug dealers and gang members start to use some of them as shooting galleries and hideouts. In many instances, the homes are so damaged by the time their negligent owners finally get around to dealing with them that they have to be condemned and razed.


In Cleveland, for example, this has happened to thousands of foreclosed homes. The banks that own them simply decide that they are a total loss and leave them for the city to demolish. The city is so overburdened with condemned and abandoned houses that it is forced to dedicate one third of its stimulus money to paying for demolition. (There was an excellent article in the New York Time Magazine about Cleveland's struggles last month.)


In light of the outright negligence of the banks that own these foreclosed houses, the actions of the activists seem completely reasonable. The people who occupy the houses are preventing them from being gutted and rendered unlivable. They are not only helping the communities they live in, but the banks as well. It may be difficult for a compassion-phobic person like the author to comprehend the fact, but this could be a good solution for all involved.

Posted by: xenophile | April 10, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and to the poster who insists the US is now a Third World country, you have apparently never been outside the developed world.

Posted by: JeffRandom
****************
The child mortality rate for America is 26 out of 44 advanced nations.

31.8 millions of American are receiving food stamps.

45.7 millions of Americans are without health coverage.

Million of Americans are unemployed and there 663,000 lost jobs in March.

I have been outside the United States. I have been to Canada, France, and Japan. These nations would never allow the conditions that exists for tens of millions of American, for their citizens. Their opinion would be that only a third world nation would ignore such conditions.

We have become a third world nation because our government simply neglects the distress and problems of millions of Americans.

My definition for a third world nation is a nation with such a incompetent and/or corrupt government that it totally ignores the distress of it's citizens.

Any government that ignores unemployment, poverty, functional illiteracy, and the lack of health care of tens of millions of it citizens and proposes spending 500 to 1000 billion dollars for 10 major banks is either completely incompetent and/or corrupt and is the government of a third world nation.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 10, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

"Is it ok if I change the locks on your car and drive it around because your not using it at the moment?Posted by: spamsux1"

If it's already been repossessed? Sure, knock yourself out.

Posted by: Samson151 | April 10, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

This "utilitarian" theory is highly subjective, in that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder. Laws exist to standardize and codify concepts of fairness. Of course they miss the mark from time to time, just like traffic lights are often timed poorly. Still, I'd rather face lousy traffic lights than uncontrolled intersections. Allowing one person to break a law because another thinks it's justified in this case is the equivalent of removing traffic lights from intersections. Adherence to the rule of law is most difficult, and therefore most important, when sympathies are with a contrary result.

Posted by: Compared2What | April 10, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

One of the most basic principles of economy is that the goods should go where they are most needed. In a capitalist economy that theoretically works through the fact that those who produce the most benefit from a good should be able to pay the highest price for it. However, when those that need the good can no longer buy it and those that want to sell the product no longer find other buyers for it, that system obviously has a problem that needs to be fixed in other ways.

Putting homeless people into peopleless homes to me seems like a great temporary solution to the economic problem on the housing market. It helps alocate the resources to where they are needed during a time where the system can temporarily not get that job done... And considering the massive state aid the banks are receiving, they really have no basis to complain about what infringements on puristic capitalism go with these measures. The banks owe society big time, this is one of the ways they can pay back.

Posted by: Salomo | April 10, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

How about a compromise? Parts of America are 2nd world, not 3rd world? I know I've seen some places in this country which were incredibly bad and were like Brazilian favelas, except they were more spread out than slums in Brazil. Real filth and degradation, and legally occupied by very poor people.

It does feel like we're moving away from a more 1st world mindset/set up and now have a diminishing middle class. I have no idea how people survive on the minimum wage. The focus needs to be more on building up our middle class (<$150,000 earners) for a while. Voodoo economics haven't trickled enough down to us.

Posted by: Matthew_DC | April 11, 2009 1:20 AM | Report abuse

I proposed a simple, low-cost solution to the homeless problem back in 2007. My idea is even more valid today than it was then: http://www.roblimo.com/node/192

Posted by: roblimo | April 11, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

To all those comparing this squatting to "stealing a car" or "breaking into someone's home," I suggest you familiarize yourself with the law.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_possession

Posted by: caliente1 | April 10, 2009 5:32 PM
===========================================
An Adverse possession claim takes years of occupation or use without the owners permission to establish a claim.

Would'nt it be better for the advocacy groups to contact the banks and solicite their cooperation.It may be to th banks advantage if a few issues are resolved.

No one want's people without a place to live but we should be able to address that and respect property rights.

Posted by: saw1 | April 11, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Why should one have to be homeless to occupy a home. If my house is a dump and a nice home is vacant down the road why should'nt I be allowed to upgrade?

Posted by: saw1 | April 11, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

When workers found themselves without jobs as a result of Nafta, Bubba Clinton told them that we would train them for the new world order, {computers}. Hillary was so busy outsourcing computer jobs to India, there
were no jobs left for Americans. The Clintons have sold out the backbone of the Democratic party, {Working classes}, and outsourced our industrial base to China. The only gainers are China and Walmart, {Hillary on board of directors}.

Posted by: umt123 | April 11, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Going Way Too Far to Help the Homeless

Apparently, the author of this section has left out an important element in this section to forward the truth of their interest in which readers have a distort message including myself. In saying that I would prefer not to comment of this article until the truth and proof of the related info is inserted surrounding substantial circumstance to understand the author’s intent. But, I will say that America needs to clean up around their own doorsteps before they attempt to foot another’s.

Posted by: Nisey01 | April 12, 2009 5:13 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I should become homeless. Just think - no rent, no mortgage, no taxes, no working. Why don't we just give them our paychecks, which is pretty much what we are doing now.

Posted by: masona29 | April 13, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the author of the article. I know that if a person or person decides to 'squat' in an uninhabited dwelling, whoever owns that dwelling (in this case, a bank) is responsible legally for whatever damages are done to the property and are vulnerable to lawsuits if there in an injury on the property. The bank pays homeowners insurance on an empty house. And taxes. And maintains the property. If a homeless family can come to an agreement with the bank to do all of those things themselves, more power to them. But that is not what is happening.
A homeless person isn't in the postiion to even rent a room or an apartment, let alone a house.
One thing that is not being mentioned is that the homeless are sometimes homeless families with children. This doesn't contribute to the stability of a household. If anything, it's a matter of time before the children are again faced with another move - and the family is on the move. Sometimes, in fact, often, there is mental illness or alcholism or drug use plaguing the homeless person or family.
There's no way to sneak into a home and take up residence unobtrusively. It's like being in a witness protection program, always watching your back. At worst, it's like living a feral existence, sleeping on mattresses on the floor and eating fast food or canned food as a steady diet.
The truly poor sometimes have severe problems, such as gambling or bad work habits, that make any money they earn go down the drain. These people need help from agencies that offer solid support. They don't need help 'going undercover' until they have to move again.

Posted by: KathyWi | April 13, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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