Solidarity: Operation Welcome Home takes back the Land in Madison, WI

13 05 2010

May 10, 2010- Operation Welcome Home (OWH) hosted an open house on the westside of Madision, WI to celebrate moving a family into a vacant foreclosed home. The OWH effort is part of the Take Back the Land May 2010 National Month of Action to elevation housing to the level of a human right.

Desiree Wilson, who is employed as an after-school program assistant supervisor, and her two children, ages 1 and 4, were moved into the 3 bedroom home which sat vacant for approximately a year as the owners abandoned the property and the house went through the foreclosure process. The move prevented the family from facing homelessness.

If this isn’t neighborhood revitalization, I don’t know what is,” proclaimed Wilson. “Folks from Take Back the Land worked with me to make a home out of a house that beforehand was not suitable for a family because it sat empty for so long. The neighbors have welcomed me and my children, and my son has already made new friends.”

Operation Welcome Home is a group of homeless people and their allies organizing around the root causes of homelessness, fighting for affordable housing, jobs, and an end to criminalization of poverty. Recently they began working with a coalition of local groups organizing in low-income communities to support families, like Desiree’s, who have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis. These groups are working to take action in the midst of a housing crisis in Madison and nationwide, in which homes remain vacant due to foreclosures and evictions while too many families with children are homeless.

The Wilson family moved into the house two weeks ago after a vetting process and agreeing to the terms of the stay, including spending a day cleaning the long vacant house and promising to be a “good neighbor,” among other things.

OWH organizer Z! Haukeness argues “It’s unjust and immoral that there’s homeless people on one side of the street and empty buildings on the other side of the street.” So, at the open house, OWH and partner groups asked the Madison Police Department and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to not take action against Desiree’s family.

“We are asking City of Madison officials and police to support us in keeping families off the streets,” stated OWH spokesperson Nathaniel Abrams. “Taxpayers have bailed out the banks, and in turn they put families out through eviction and foreclosure. So now let’s bail out families who have been the ones paying the highest costs of this economic crisis we’re in.”

OWH is asking that in lieu of the scheduled May 18th foreclosure sale, the house should be turned over to a community land trust so that vacant land can be used for the community’s benefit.

The home is being foreclosed by Bank of America, a North Carolina financial institution which received $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money, a number derived, in part, by the number and value of foreclosures held by BoA. BoA repaid the TARP bailout late in 2009 after profitting from new investments, such as the purchase of investment giant Merrill Lynch, made possible by the funds and by selling $18 billion worth of securities to raise the cash.

In the spirit of the 50th anniversary of the first civil rights “sit-ins” in Greensboro, NC, OWH and the Wilson family are on the front lines of a national “live-in” campaign. Organizations across the US are participating in the May 2010 Month of Action to elevate housing to the level of a human right and protesting those laws which maintain vacant homes while families are homeless.

Groups in over a dozen cities are moving families into vacant government-owned and foreclosed homes or physically defending families from eviction and foreclosure.

On May 1, Right 2 Survive seized control over a vacant lot in SE Portland, OR and erected a tent city in defiance of local “sit and lie” laws. Keith Sadler made national news when the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League helped him seal himself in his home for five days to resist eviction. The Woods County SWAT team eventually raided the home and arrested the Stony Ridge 7. A small faith based group has been moving families into vacant homes in Sacarmento, CA, including two this May. And the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign moved a family into a vacant home owned by the city of Philadelphia.

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