SEATTLE - The Occupy Wall Street protests are moving into the neighborhood.
Finding it harder to camp in public spaces, Occupy protesters across the country are reclaiming foreclosed homes and boarded-up properties, signaling a tactical shift for the movement against wealth inequality. Groups in more than 25 cities held protests Tuesday on behalf of homeowners facing evictions.
In Atlanta, protesters held a rally at a county courthouse and used whistles and sirens to disrupt an auction of seized houses. In New York, they marched through a neighborhood in Brooklyn carrying signs that read "Foreclose on banks, not people." Los Angeles protesters rallied around a family of six who plan to reclaim the home they lost six months ago in foreclosure.
And in Philadelphia, activist Cheri Honkala, who ran as an independent candidate for Philadelphia sheriff on the prospect of ending sheriff's enforced foreclosures, conducted a training session Tuesday for Occupy Philadelphia protesters planning anti-foreclosures demonstrations and action.
The events reflect the protesters' frustration over the housing crisis that has sent millions of homes into foreclosure. Nearly a quarter of U.S. homeowners with mortgages are now "underwater," representing nearly 11 million homes, according to CoreLogic, a real estate research firm.
Seattle has become a leader in the anti-foreclosure movement as protesters took over a formerly boarded-up duplex last month. They painted the bare wood sidings and strung up a banner that says "Occupy Everything - No Banks No Landlords."
While arrests have already been made in a couple of squatting cases in Seattle and Portland, Ore., it remains to be seen how authorities will react to this latest tactic.
In Portland, a police spokesman, Sgt. Pete Simpson, said he was aware that the movement called for people to occupy foreclosed homes but said it was difficult to distinguish between those who would squat in homes as a political statement and those who do it for shelter.
A Seattle police spokesman, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, said his department saw squatting in private properties as the same violation of trespassing that Occupy Seattle made when it camped in a downtown park.
In Los Angeles, protest organizers were keeping secret the full identity of the man who is going to take back his home, so as not to alert police or the bank. The protesters planned to rally when the family returns to their home.
New York protesters introduced members of a homeless family at the end of their rally and said they plan to renovate and clean up the house so the family can live in a house they said had been abandoned by a bank.
In Portland, a news conference was held at the home of a woman facing foreclosure in March. She vowed to stay in her house until authorities take her out. "We belong here," said Deb Austin, who said she fell behind in payments after a cancer diagnosis and after her husband lost his second job. "And we're not leaving."