Home for the holidays — and staying there

The joy of gathering at home for the holidays has turned into a battle for some families facing foreclosure. 

But one group in Philadelphia is training people to use tactics pioneered by civil rights leaders in order  to stay in their homes.  At one such training session, about 20 people gathered in Esther Smith’s living room in North Philadelphia waiting to learn about nonviolent civil disobedience.  Smith told the group that she inherited the modest three-bedroom house, where she lives with her two sisters and nephew, when her mother died a few years ago.”She taught me how to become strong and fight,” said Smith as she fought back tears. “At 31, my life has taken a very different road.  I am now having to be a mother to my sisters and having to face foreclosure.”Smith said she’s unemployed, and is 8 months behind on the $650 a month mortgage.  She said her mortgage company refused to modify her loan. Last month, she got her first foreclosure notice. Veteran Philadelphia activist Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign led the training.  “We’ll be carried out one by one…the family will sit down on the floor, we’ll sit down on the floor,” she instructed.While Honkala and a pretend police force hit the porch to begin the scenario, her co-worker Galen Tyler coached the group inside playing the roles of family and supporters. “People have been bailed out and got billions and trillions of dollars in relationship to bailing these banks out all around the country.  And you have mothers and fathers that are being pushed in the street,” said Tyler.

Tyler gave his group some last-minute instructions: “We might wanna sing some songs, we definitely wanna hold hands and comfort people.”

When the “police” knocked at the door, Tyler’s group broke into song: “Well I went down to the Rich Man’s House…”Before the group gathered for the training, Smith sat in her living room watching her energetic 2-year-old nephew run around.”I’m here today to say that I’m not leaving.  That I’m gonna stay here in my home and I’m not gonna be kicked out for the holidays,” said Smith. “I just don’t want to be as a failure to my family.”The Philadelphia’s Sheriff’s office said it has not encountered a situation like this yet.

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