Fighting Foreclosures: Compassion in Action

occupy los angeles

Photo: Damon D'amato

Wednesday, January 4th was a long day for Rich, a ruddy-faced and Bronx-accented member of Occupy Los Angeles. There was an event planned that afternoon at the home of Faith Parker, a 78-year-old retired schoolteacher and grandmother facing foreclosure. The problem: Ms. Parker lived 11 miles away in South Central. Rich, 20 years homeless, rose early and began walking. “Sure, I could’ve bummed bus fare. But then you don’t get to see anything along the way,” he later told me.

Rich’s actions got me thinking about compassion. The word’s definition, like many in the English language, fails to live up to its legacy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “compassionate” as “pitiable” or “piteous,” but this notion of compassion as the “feeling sorry for” is wrong. The word derives from the Latin patiri and the Greek pathein, meaning “to suffer, undergo, or experience.” Adding the prefix com- (with) makes compassion more literally definable as “to endure along with another person,” to enter that person’s point of view, or to feel another’s pain as if it were one’s own.

The 20th was a rough century for compassion. America’s rise as the world’s sole superpower, coupled with the indoctrination of an egocentric “American Dream” as the self-proclaimed and untested best pursuit, encouraged us to embrace self-interest as the principal basis of action. The payoff on this investment in self-centeredness has become evident over the past few years: this mirage has benefited only a privileged few. Following decades of suppression and degradation of collective or egoless thinking, there is a gaping hole in American life where community once thrived.

This is one of many voids within mankind’s collective psyche that Occupy has begun to fill. Nationwide, the Occupy movement’s defense of foreclosed homes and individuals is an embodiment of the compassion espoused by the history’s greatest prophets and philosophers. Since December 6, 2011, Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy the Hood have marched in the footsteps of these titans by occupying homes alongside the evicted and foreclosed, disrupting and/or dispersing foreclosure auctions, protesting predatory banks, lobbying city government for redress, and unifying the community around defeating one of the most difficult, stigmatized, and unjust crises presently facing the 99%.

Despite several victories, the banks, responsible for the mortgage crisis in the first place, continue to wage economic war on America. Bertha Herrera, 70, of Van Nuys, is swept up in the tumult. Ms. Herrera has spent the last ten years volunteering as a chaplain at three hospitals. Her last paid employment was coordinating a program for children with physical and mental disabilities, and before that, offering aid to impoverished women and single-mother families at a community resource center. Despite having every right to do so, she does not levy blame upon the banks for causing the mortgage crisis. She blames them for tricking her into losing her home of 30 years.

After an accident left her on disability, Ms. Herrera refinanced her home and had to take on a roommate to keep up her payments. She discovered in 2009 that her set interest rate was to become variable in 2010, which she would be unable to afford. Following a loan modification request, Ms. Herrera was first coerced into unwittingly signing the last page of a loan modification contract, the rest of which was not mailed to her for more than a month. Her loan holder then informed Ms. Herrera that she was not required to make her next three months’ payments. When she requested documentation verifying this, she was stalled (later, when she appealed and explained being misled by the representative, the claim was denied due to lack of documentation). After skipping the first payment, Ms. Herrera became concerned and followed up. VeriQuest said they’d get back to her.

Shortly thereafter Ms. Herrera received a past-due notice from her lender. She paid it the next day, upset and uneasy about being misled. When she later made her August payment, she discovered that the money was not being applied to her principal, but instead to “insurance and taxes.” Her lender had begun paying her homeowner’s insurance, even though she was already paying it herself, and was attempting to charge her a second time, alongside other fees. She received a notice in early November that she had an outstanding balance of approximately $2,000. Five days later, she received another notice that her balance had risen to $5,000. By Nov. 15, VeriQuest threatened foreclosure without immediate and full repayment for a past-due balance of over $6,000.

occupy los angeles

Photo: Nick Bates

For 27 years, Bertha Herrera had faithfully paid her mortgage. As she scrambled to mobilize emergency payment, her lender had already moved to foreclose. It is alleged that documents of service were presented to a “tall and slender woman” on November 18 to a woman named Bertha Herrera. Ms. Herrera is 5’4”, neither slim nor stocky, and never received the documents. Without notice of service, her five-day window to challenge the foreclosure in court slammed shut while the bank had her scrambling to mobilize the funds to pay the full sum (payment they then refused).

Ms. Herrera has continued to fight for her home despite being evicted on Jan. 5 alongside about 15 brave home Occupiers. Until recently, the re-sale of her house had proceeded so quickly that she was approached by a woman interested in “taking a look around the place” while Ms. Herrera was still packing her belongings. Although clearly pained by this and other humiliating moments throughout the process, she remains strong, hopeful, and thankful.

Her strength and resilience has paid off. The bank has recently begun returning Ms. Herrera’s calls, and there is hope that her home may yet be saved. Speaking of the service provided by the Occupiers, and about compassion in general, her voice lit up: “How I describe it, [Occupiers] have carried my burden for me, with me. I can’t imagine, simply can’t imagine going through that alone. The way the sheriffs pounded, slammed on the door until they broke the latch…”

This is what true compassion looks like. Compassion isn’t feeling bad for someone or offering condolences. Compassion is living a moment of vulnerability and pain alongside a fellow human being while selflessly devoting oneself to their wellbeing. Above all, compassion is about not having to go through it alone.

One of many reasons the Occupation of Solidarity Park was life-changing was the way compassion was lived there, daily, together. From the peacekeepers offering their bodies to calm unrest and the wellness committee offering healthcare, to the various “neighborhoods” looking out for each other, and even in the way people would hear out those who just needed some time to speak, compassion breathed and thrived. Now we must expand this success from the encampment to the psyche.

The action at Faith Parker’s South Central residence went well that day. Recently the bank has returned to the negotiating table; her home may yet be saved. She, beautiful and courageous, possessing a story every bit as compelling as Bertha’s, is not going to go easily. Occupy will be at her side for every step of the way.

That evening, I gave Rich a ride back to the General Assembly. It was then that I learned he had walked all the way from downtown. After I voiced my disbelief, he chuckled, and in his Bronx accent mused, “If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d spend my whole day walking to South Central to try to save the house of someone I didn’t even know, I’d have told you you was nuts.” He sounded at peace. (Foreclosure battles are constantly ongoing. If you would like to get involved, or if you require foreclosure assistance, contact  occupyfightsforeclosure@gmail.com.

Matt Ward
Los Angeles Times Occupied

Republished with permission from Los Angeles Times Occupied

Published by the LA Progressive on February 15, 2012
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Comments

  1. Saundra Parker says:

    First, I’ve got to say, “Faith Parker-the 79 year old retired teacher and her daughter, Saundra – love Rich”
    Rich is the sweetest, good-hearted man we have had the pleasure of meeting. We both always greet Rich with a smile, a kiss and a hug. Rich exemplifies everything that’s positive about the Occupy movement and the people that we’ve been blessed to meet in this journey.
    Now I’ll briefly tell you who I am, how I came to be involved in the Occupy Movement:
    For the past three years I had been battling with Bank of America to obtain that elusive, fabled loan modification. They had repeatedly lost paperwork, told my mother and I untruths and misinformed us, then they told us in writing that since we were in the loan modification process, we would not be foreclosed upon. We waited for the period of January 2009 until the house was firclosed on May 6, 2011. We were still awaiting the loan modification process, had been told that our file was complete-that the final processing was being completed by the underwriter. A foreclosure sale date had regularly been scheduled by the bank and had always been taken off the calendar or postponed while we were in the review process. When the May 6, 2011 foreclosure sale date was made known to us, I called the bank to request a postponement of the sale date, as I had many times before. The representative of the Bank of America loan modification team took and acknowledged my request and said not to worry. I had every reason to worry, as I had been very concerned for the past three years and had become increasing wary of anything the “banking professionals” had been telling my mother and I.
    The day before the sale date, I called the bank to confirm that the sale date had again been postponed.
    I had called 6 times in the past to verify and or ask for a postponement of past sale dates, only to find that they had already postponed the sale without my request – still I was concerned, as I had begin to mistrust the banks after all the misinformation that I had been given by their representatives over the years. I was told that the sale date was still going to happen. I panicked, what about our “the file is complete, we’re awaiting the decision of the underwriter”? Thecrepresenrative told me a decision would be made before the sale date, I called the day before the sale day each hour-I didn’t receive a response.I called every 30 minutes hours before the sale time, still I received no response to my urgent request. I finally demanded to speak with a supervisor in the loan modification department. When the person came on the phone, she was surly-as if I was bothering her to ask a question about the status of my earlier request for a postponement of the sale date. Unexplained that our loan was on the review process of a loan modification, her response was that we were not in the loan modification process and that my mothers home had been foreclosed upon. We has received 6-8 letters apoligizing for the delay in making a tesponse to our request, but please be patient, expect to hear from the loan modification Dept. in 15 days. telling us that they were delayed in reviewing mom’s loan for review for a loan modification.
    We were very disappointed and afraid, how could Bank of America misled us for three years then stolen our family property from us, while pretending to be “evaluating our records” in order to be considered for a loan modification? Notices began to be tossed in the front yard by process servers, I continued to complain to the executives of Bank of America andbe ignored. Notices continued to be tossed in the yard and taped on the front door. A letter came from the banks law firm stating that we were to move from our family home in 3 days. We did not move, instead I began to complain to anyone and any organization that I could. In response to my complaints I received a letter from the office of the CEO of Bank of America.
    In the letter the writer apologized for the inconvenience of having our home repossessed, sold to Mellon Bank, and for “causing us any inconvenience”. They assigned us a “Workout Negotiator” and said that through him the bank was willing to reverse the foreclosure and work towards giving us a loan modification. They gave us the phone number and extension of this “Workout Negotiator” and we happily called him, expecting a response soon.
    I called him twice a day for 4 and 1/2 month and never received a response or any contact from him.
    In late November 2011, I left one final message on his never responded to voicemail: I said that, “I was tired of being disrespected, lied to, ignored and betrayed – I was going to contact OccupyLA and the media, maybe I would get some help from Occupy, because the bank was not responding”.
    A representative from Bank of America’s Office of the CEO called me the following morning at 8:30.
    and did nothing.
    Representatives from OccupyLA called me the next day as well, the difference being that they wanted to help my mother and because it was the right thing to do. There was a bunch of great people participating in a non-violent protest in the front yard of our house in two days. There were lots of cameras and reporters there and we were actually supported and encouraged. We spoke to the LA City Council, participated in four marches and protested along with our new brothers and sisters of many ethnicities and cultures. We received more support and help with these lovely OccupyLA brothers and sisters than we ever did from any mortgage company or bank who receives our hard-earned money, but would not acknowledge our existence when we were hurt by them. The only thing the bank representatives desired
    was to steal from us. Currently, Bank of America has assigned a senior executive to help reverse the foreclosure and give us the long put off loan modification. When the process is over, we will have our friends at OccupyLA to thank for the help and support they gave us and the spotlight that they shined on Bank of America. I am convinced that without Occupy’s help my mother’s property would be lost. I will continue working with Occupy because they are good people operating with only the best of intentions.
    Because of Occupy, I plan to go to law school, so that I’ll be able to help others in the way that they helped us. We are the 99% together we stand and divided we fall.
    Yours In Solidarity,
    Saundra Parker

    • Saundra, your strength and your mother’s has reached me across great distance. God bless you and those who are fighting to serve justice in today’s world. We are so very lucky to have you fighting on the front lines for all who suffer similarly.

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