The winter rain soaked the crowd as they stepped off the L train at Livonia Avenue with wrapped gifts and bright balloons tucked under arms. Only a few miles from Wall Street the devastation of poverty in East New York, Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state, is ubiquitous; foreclosed signs and vacant houses litter block after block after block.
That is why last Tuesday’s National Day of Action, reclaiming abandoned homes for the homeless, marked an important next step in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The 400-person march on foreclosed properties, led by homeless families and neighborhood residents, began just after 1pm and included local community groups like VOCAL-NY, Union Healthcare Workers East, Organizing for Occupation, Picture the Homeless and Take Back The Land.
District 42 council member Charles Baron also joined the protesters, who stopped first at a house on New Jersey Avenue where couches and tables and toys, torn and crushed and rotting in the wet December air, were the only signs of a family’s previous life there. Next to the house, an old Jamaican woman with a cane stood in the rain with a grin that engulfed her round cheeks and a sign that read “Foreclose on Banks Not People.”
Councilman Baron climbed the stairs of the home to speak. “Banks take our homes, throw children and the elderly on the streets, then board up vacant homes while people have nowhere to go,” he said. He motioned for the crowd to turn around. Across the street, hundreds of little hands, some clutching homemade signs, were waving from the windows of Thomas Jefferson High School.
As the crowd arrived at a second property, located on Alabama Avenue, a woman shouted with rage: “I cannot take it anymore! I need to speak!” The crowd fell silent as she was escorted up the stairs of the abandoned house.
The woman spoke of her inability to eat or sleep because Deutsche Bank was about to evict her. She said she bought her home in 1997 with a down payment of $80,000 and a monthly mortgage of $1,500. She worked hard to raise her son and keep a roof over his head, putting him through Catholic school and later college. Then he served in Iraq. He was killed there. Her mortgage was sold and her monthly payment skyrocketed to $3,900.
“What did my son die for?” she yelled as tears streamed down her face. “My son died for a country that does this to its people! How many families suffer like me? Don’t give up, Occupy Wall Street! Don’t give up.”
The group’s final destination was a foreclosed property on Vermont Street, left vacant for three years and now reoccupied by a homeless family: Alfredo Carrasquillo, Tasha Glasgow and their nine-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. The house was adorned with green and red holiday décor, bright balloons and a huge sign that read “Occupied Real Estate.”
The crowd presented the family with gifts including a soccer ball, a stuffed animal and a houseplant. Then Alfredo climbed a small ladder to address the onlookers. “This moment is very special,” he said as his eyes welled with tears and his voice crackled.
Unable to finish his thoughts, Alfredo climbed back down the ladder and wrapped his arms around his children who would be sleeping, for the first time in three years, in their own home.