Four years ago, when I was volunteering to man telephones for a listener-sponsored radio station during one of their pledge drives, I met a man who, in the course of the conversation, admitted that he was a homesteader.
I wasn’t familiar with the modern usage of the term, so he explained that he would break into abandoned buildings, run extension cords to the street lamps for electricity and arrange to receive mail at the address for at least a month to prove residency.
He claimed that he faced ongoing battles with the owners of the abandoned properties—throwing his possessions out on the street, re-padlocking the property, sending “muscle” to physically evict him, etc.—but this is not the true issue of the post.
This homesteader had no income and he couldn’t rig the pipes in the abandoned buildings to run water, so he cased houses and when he was sure that the owners were either away at work or on vacation, he broke into their houses (curiosity, always my master, I asked him how but he wouldn’t say) took showers and made a meal for himself before he left. He claimed he never took anything besides food.
I told this story to a group of online friends (screen names changed to protect the innocent, naturally) and asked, “Besides the obvious breaking and entering charges, how severe a crime did they think the use of a shower and the fixing of a meal was?”
This was the conversation that resulted:
Its_Me_Mario: The obvious charges are the only ones that matter.
No_Drama_Mama: He is taking a person’s sense of security in their own home away. That is not easily replaced. As a society, we have chosen to not address the marginal citizens, so this is what happens. “There is nothing more dangerous than someone who has nothing to lose.”
ComicGrrl: Still a crime, yes, but not a severe one. Drama, the sense of security is a rather tenuous one. We’ve all seen how fragile glass is, yet we make much of the borders of our secure area out of it. That should be symbolic enough in itself.
CatLover: Considering the unfortunate homeowners would probably realize their home had been invaded, it’s a very serious crime. i believe the residents would be seriously emotionally affected; feeling that they were no longer safe and protected in their own homes. Also, what would a “homesteader” do if there indeed was someone in the home? How quickly that could become a violent situation.
FromTheHip: The presumptions of this kind of situation are that the person in the home is a violent felon and has asked to be exterminated, for posing potentially lethal risks to the homeowner and other residents. It’s pretty much impossible to act that way without sending the message of being a severe threat and causing distress and other damages far beyond the value of a meal.
This points to a need for society to have more workable means of survival for people living outside the presumptions of economic system participation. In urban areas, that’s very difficult, due to land and infrastructure costs, and an inability for people to live self-sufficiently without relying on many money-driven pieces of urban systems. In rural areas, it’s difficult because of transportation and access to things not usually practical to make or farm oneself.
There are large numbers of people living in Intentional Communities on far lower budgets than most people realize is possible, often with better quality of life than others with 10-20 times the personal cash flow, but those communities try to screen for compatible goals and adequate mental health as to be a functional community member. At present the only real place our society has for people outside all those options is prison, a very costly and dehumanizing approach to situations like this one.
Deedelit: Madd_Fictional noted that these initial selections were abandoned buildings, where security is less of an issue and therefore to me, the “punishment” should be somewhat limited to something along the lines of what was taken and how much it cost.
But that seems to have changed as this person likes the finer things that the rest of us work for. And while there are many unfortunates in our society, there is no reason to automatically assume this is one of them. Further, we don’t need to assume the person is a violent felon, the bottom line is that he is in someone’s home. Generally speaking, home is the place of retreat for us, the last place to go. If someone were to break into my home with me in it, I would feel justified in killing him. It is not my job to decipher his motives. It is my job to protect myself.
ComicGrrl: CatLover, what if the homeowners never suspected burglary? They might have all thought the food disappeared because someone else in the family ate it. No harm, no foul?
DudeBro: It’s burglary.
PlatinumCard: What part of abandoned did you people not get?
DudeBro: It’s not a crime of extreme malice, but certainly extreme stupidity. That’s the kind of situation where someone comes homes, walks in on a guy, freaks out, and someone, invader or homeowner, ends up dead as a result.
PlatinumCard: Homesteading would help recover both subprime and Alt-A housing markets in relatively little time. By ensuring that there are people tending to the walk-aways, they are less likely to be stripped for scrap metal. This would in turn help prevent banks from going under by restoring some value to the homes (which were overvalued, to begin with) instead of “totaling” them. This prevents more federal market intervention: fewer FDIC bailouts of depositors, fewer FDIC takeovers of financials, lesser federal spending pressure on debt. These (gasp) victimized “owners” of abandoned buildings are banks, towns, cities. they don’t go “on vacation” and “come home” to an intruder
Career_Driven: The homesteader is breaking into regular houses owned by people who live there to bathe/eat, then returning to his abandoned home to live. Breaking into someone’s home is a serious crime and I would want him to do serious jail time if caught and convicted.
Silicious: It’s wrong because burglary has become his occupation. The same effort he put into squatting in abandoned buildings and breaking into homes, he can apply toward getting his life in order and being a part of society rather than leeching off of it.
Jack_the_lad: In Britain, we call this squatting. Squatting is a valid response to the lack of affordable housing and homes left deliberately vacant by absentee landlords, frequently foreign financiers, whereby they can make more money by waiting for a property’s value to rise than by taking the risk and having the hassle of renting it out. Propaganda frequently suggests that squatters move into peoples homes while they are on holiday. This is rarely the case. Normally squatters move into abandoned buildings. Sometimes the squatters repair and save buildings which are of historic and architectural value which property developers would prefer to rot so that they can sell the land. Repairing historic buildings costs money. In the UK there is a law under which if someone occupies continuously a property or piece of land for 12 years, it becomes theirs legally.
About A Meal And A Hot Shower: I know, this post is not a short story that delves into the genres of science or speculative fiction but it is a true story and the responses are genuine and aside for the names have not been altered. I find it fascinating to open these types of topics up for debate as it clearly illustrates that no subject matter is as black and white an issue as we’d like to believe.
Next week, hopefully, I’ll have a story to throw up here, but no promises, though. I’m still wrestling with the novel that I did not finish for Nanowrimo 2018 (stop snickering, I gave it my best shot!)