Tax-Aided Nonprofit Reportedly Trains Homeless as Squatters

A New York City homeless advocacy group that has reportedly received at least $240,000 in municipal funds in the last five years is reportedly teaching people how to squat in vacant city properties.

The New York Post says that Andres Perez, a board member of the nonprofit, Picture the Homeless, recently instructed about 20 people in the ways of "homesteading," or permanently occupying a vacant property.

"You make sure you have your proper tools," he reportedly said during the unlikely workshop. "You remove the chains and padlock, and then you go in."

Perez was purportedly teaching how to gain residential footholds in Arlington Village, a housing complex in East New York where residents told the Post they already have trouble from uninvited occupants, including crack-smoking prostitutes.

"The best properties are city-owned properties or bank-owned properties," Perez reportedly said. "They warehouse these properties. They're sitting on them."

Instances of squatting appear to have spiked during the housing crisis, which has claimed the homes of more than 3 million Americans who defaulted on their loans.

"You have these abandoned dwellings that are sitting there vacant, sometimes for many months," Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless in New York told theLos Angeles Times in December. "The fact is that people are desperate for places to live, and they're going to do what they need to do."

Squatting has also gained recognition as an Occupy Wall Street protest tactic. Occupy protesters launched "Occupy Our Homes," in December, an anti-foreclosure offensive that protesters wage largely through occupying foreclosed homes.

"We've developed a model that I hope will become a national model for how this works," said Anthony Newby, an organizer who collaborated with an Occupy Minneapolis to stage a sit-in at the home of a foreclosed-on vet in February. "We want to identify homeowners who are going to foreclosure, and then we just leverage the momentum of Occupy to create community support for people in crisis."

While some might view squatting as a necessity for some Americans down on their luck these days, it's also been characterized as an attempt by scam artists to skirt the law.

A Texas man, Kenneth Robinson recently paid $16 to file a claim to a house worth more than $340,000, asserting that a loophole in state law enabled him to take up residence in the home because no owner was present. Others reportedly used the same tactic to fraudulently lay claim to a $2.7 million mansion and other properties in Texas under "adverse possession." Robinson managed to stay in the home for six months before Bank of America persuaded a judge to order his eviction.

In the case of Andres Perez and Picture the Homeless, a New York City Council spokeswoman told the Post that teaching a homesteading class could mean the end of city funding for the nonprofit.

"We're deeply troubled by reports that Picture the Homeless is instructing New Yorkers in how to engage in dangerous and illegal activities," spokeswoman Robin Levine was quoted as saying. "If these reports are in fact true, they call the group's entire funding into question."

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