A subset of Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country are bringing their fight indoors with plans to stay in foreclosed homes for months. The group launched a national campaign on Tuesday called Occupy Our Homes -- literally living in the homes of foreclosed homeowners, giving temporary reprieve from the bitter cold.
Nick Espinosa, one of the organizers of Occupy Minneapolis, which officially launched Oct. 7, said Minnesota's cold makes it difficult for people to spend the winter outdoors, where the temperature is forecasted to reach a low of two degrees on Thursday just as Hennepin County authorities removed unattended tarps and chairs at the plaza outside the Minneapolis government center, the Associated Press reported.
The numbers at the plaza fluctuate, but they are "dwindling," Espinosa said.
"It makes sense to be indoors but really this is a larger issue," he said. "It's an opportunity for a way to bring what is happening on Wall Street to back to Main Street and to communities most affected by this crisis."
Foreclosures are still plaguing communities across the country as foreclosure activity recently hit a seven-month high, RealtryTrac reported last month. There were foreclosure filings on 230,678 properties across the country in October, the real estate site said, an increase of seven percent from the previous month though down 31 percent from a year ago.
This week the first major lawsuit filed over "robo-signing" foreclosure processing was filed in Massachusetts against Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Ally Financial and Wells Fargo, as well as the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. (MERS corp). The suit alleges the companies used fraudulent documentation in processing foreclosures.
Steve Fletcher, executive director of nonprofit group Minnesota's Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, has joined with Occupy Minneapolis protesters to live on the properties of two foreclosed homeowners.
About 50 people began occupying the home of Bobby Hull, 57, this week. Fletcher said he and other protesters plan to stay in the four-bedroom home of Hull, who is scheduled to be evicted from his home on Feb. 17.
"We're going to support Bobby until he has a sustainable mortgage that lets him stay in his house," Fletcher said. "We find it appalling that banks will not renegotiate with him but they will sell his house for pennies on the dollar to other banks."
Hull, who was an independent contractor but is unemployed after suffering from multiple heart attacks and surgery on his right rotator cuff, opened his living room and a pot of gumbo to about 50 protesters who offered to help him save his home.
He called them "caring, sharing and wonderful folks."
"I think they have a good mission and a lot of drive," Hull said.
When asked what his neighbors thought of his new house guests, he said none have complained.
"They haven't said much. I got a couple who are really supportive," Hull said. "Others ask, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'
But Hull said "it's not a big deal" to his neighbors.
"I always have a lot of guests at my house," Hull, who has nine brothers and sisters, said. "Anytime we have any kind of family gathering it looks pretty much the same."
In addition to the dozens of protesters who plan to stay at Hull's house sporadically until they know he can keep his house, Hull is also housing his nephew and his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.
"There are people camping out in my living room for the moment but its working. There's a roof over everyone's head and we've got heat and food," he said.
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change along with Occupy Minneapolis protesters have also stayed at the home of Monique White in North Minneapolis, for one month. Espinosa said the protesters in White's home have scaled back since the original 40 or 50 people a night.
"We're looking at the homes as not just a place to sleep but as a hub to build support for the homeowners, canvas, and build local campaign to save these homes," Espinosa said. They are also holding weekly neighborhood forums at the homes to discuss how foreclosures are affecting the communities and how to fight them.
Max Rameau, a member of Take Back the Land, a national network of organizations hoping to "elevate" housing as a human right said Occupy Our Home protesters are not just trying to move indoors.
"Occupy Our Homes is a sustainable way to win victories on land, housing and financial system issues, but it is not viable for #Occupy to move directly from outside to inside," he said.