200 community members successfully took over a vacant home in south Minneapolis Thursday night for a veteran made homeless by foreclosure, demanding that the house be turned over to community control through a nonprofit, as the Occupy Homes movement marked its first birthday. Internationally renowned hip-hop artists Brother Ali and Chuck D of Public Enemy led the anniversary celebration.
The home reclamation came on a nationally coordinated day of action for the Occupy Homes movement, which has been lauded as one of the most successful offshoots of Occupy Wall Street. Over the past year Occupy Homes has won renegotiations in dozens of foreclosure cases, including six in the Twin Cities.
Community members gathered at the home of Bobby Hull, a fellow veteran who won his home from Bank of America last year, for a dinner and celebration of victories of the past year. "We took over this house last year," said Bobby, "and this year I want to take over this neighborhood."
"I see boarded-up cribs, and I see people in the streets, and I see banks that get bigger and bigger," said Public Enemy’s Chuck D, speaking at the celebration. "And it’s the most criminal thing that ever could happen. Never have so many been screwed by so few."
Homelessness in Hennepin County is at a six-year-high, a near-crisis situation, and one in four people experiencing homelessness is a veteran. Nationwide, there are 3.5 million homeless people--and nearly 19 million vacant homes. "Why not put homeless people, or people who have gone through foreclosure like us, into these vacant homes?" asked John Vinje, a Vietnam veteran. "At least they’ve got somewhere safe and warm to live."
Before he performed inside Bobby's house, Brother Ali, who made headlines in June for his arrest defending the Cruz house, spoke movingly about the time he and his son spent homeless. "Anyone who’s lived in a house that the police have smashed through, where someone comes into your house with a gun, you know that traumatizes you for life. I still have to sleep away from the door when I stay in a hotel."
The community then marched to a nearby home made vacant by the foreclosure crisis, where John Vinje told the story of how US Bank and Freddie Mac foreclosed on and then evicted him rather than modify his loan--in spite of their programs to help veterans. "Because of US Bank and Freddie Mac, my family is now split up in three different parts of the metro area," he said. "It wasn't my fault. It wasn't your fault. It was their fault. This is not the country that I fought for."