This story was first reported by Lisa Ling on KCET SOCAL.
More then 300,000 foreclosure notices of some type went out in August alone, according to a report by RealtyTrac. Hundreds of thousands more have gone out since then.
The numbers can be numbing to many, but not to John Plocher.
Plocher owns WSR Preservation, a California property maintenance company that specializes in cleaning up foreclosed homes. It is Plocher's job to gather whatever is left behind after a family is forced to leave one of those homes, to root through the debris of a broken life, where the humanity behind the numbers is inescapable.
"People always say that the first thing they'd take in any disaster is photographs," Plocher told KCET. "We find pink slips. We find birth certificates. ... We've found dozens of things. One of the things we found more recently was an urn with somebody's remains that had been cremated and they left the urn at the house.
"This is disaster on a grand scale," he said. "This is not something we are excited about doing."
Although people usually know months in advance that they are headed towards foreclosure, Plocher said they often leave in a hurry. In one house he entered, there was still food in the refrigerator.
"These people didn't take much," he said. "They took what they needed. Perhaps wallets and purses, shirts on their back, literally, and they're gone. I guess if you're losing everything, what's the point of cleaning up, right?
"I think people that have gotten to this point are depressed," he added. "They've lost their home and they're probably not thinking straight. They've lost everything, and a lot of good stuff is still here, so they must be in great despair."
WSR employee Arik Jensen is still stunned by what he finds.
"I mean, I have to pick up children's toys. I pick up dolls and I wonder if this was a little girl's best friend," he said. "I wonder what this was to somebody else, and now it's going in the dumpster."
If the property does not end up in a dumpster, it is sold off at auctions or requisitioned by the bank that foreclosed on the home.
"I wonder how I would feel," Jensen said. "What I would leave behind, and what I would tell my kids before I leave."