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Occupy Our Homes Battles Foreclosures

Barber said that she avoided going public with her case for two years because she didn't want to "air my dirty laundry." But now that she's a focal point of an OOH effort, she said that she feels "pride."

The shift in her mindset is an example of what many point to as Occupy Our Homes' greatest contribution: The movement has helped chip away at the stigma attached to foreclosure and has spurred distressed homeowners and their neighbors to fight back.

"Nobody was telling homeowners that they could say 'no' and that they shouldn't feel ashamed," said Melissa Byrne, an organizer with OOH D.C. But now, because of OOH, many see that "it's important to fight" for themselves and others, she said.

Mike Haack, another OOH D.C. organizer, said that his group has been involved in four campaigns since its launch. One campaign won a homeowner a loan modification, he said, while the other ended after three months when "federal marshals showed up with machine guns and pushed [the homeowner] out." Two other campaigns are ongoing, he added.

Cultivating Empathy

OOH has brought many cases of struggling homeowners facing foreclosure into the limelight, and that's put "real faces and real people" to a foreclosure crisis that has claimed millions of homes, said Eric Hersey, a spokesperson for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. The organization's affiliates often partner with OOH groups.

"I think it creates much more empathy: Neighbors standing up to protect neighbors from a system that's stacked against the little guy," Hersey said.

OOH chapters have snowballed in some communities, organizers said. Residents may initially come to the defense of a neighbor only to become rank-and-file members of OOH afterward, participating in other campaigns. Organizers also said the same goes for the homeowners who actually receive the support.

Rev. Michael Vanzant, who is disabled after suffering a stroke and is working with OOH D.C. to hold onto his home, said that he plans to support the group even if it fails to turn back his eviction.

"I've realized that I am not alone and that there are many other people who are in the same situation that I am," said Vanzant, the founder of a D.C. church.
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