Murder, Suicide, Bank Robbery and More 1/22/09 Concord Monitor
Driving around New Hampshire, it appears that the only job out there is roof shoveling. February is a cold, dark slog at best, but this year has been a particular hell of bad news. Practically every day has featured stories of layoffs, foreclosures and evictions in staggering, mind-numbing numbers.
While most media focus has been on the much-needed stimulus package in Congress, the rising human cost of the economic tragedy at the grassroots deserves more attention. Nationally, suicides, acts of desperation, bank robberies and resistance to eviction have increased.
The emotional distress caused by this economy cannot be overstated. Coping with loss of a job or a home is, by any standard, major. Suicide hotlines have reported a surge in calls from Americans who are experiencing intense fear and despair over their finances. Those suffering isolation or acute loneliness are at particular risk.
There is no shortage of economic disaster stories in local papers all over. Here is a small compilation:
A Los Angeles man shot and killed himself, his wife and his five children after he and his wife lost their jobs. The police reported financial and job-related issues led to the slayings.
Last July a Taunton, Mass., woman faxed a letter to her mortgage company advising that by the time they foreclosed on her home, she would be dead. She wrote, “I hope you’re more compassionate with my husband and son than you were with me.” According to the Boston Globe, she shot herself with a high-powered rifle. She had been handling the family finances and had intercepted letters from the mortgage company for months. Her husband had no idea what was going on. In her suicide note, she said the stress was too overwhelming for her.
Last September a Pennsylvania woman robbed a bank to pay her rent, according to journalist Nick Turse of the tomdispatch.com website. Two months behind and facing eviction, the woman took the cash
she obtained from the robbery and went to another bank where she purchased a cashier’s check to pay her landlord.
A Chicago area woman recently robbed a bank there to pay off her payday loans. Caught in a debt trap, she saw bank robbery as her only way out.
In December, a West Palm Beach, Fla., man barricaded himself in his mobile home, set the place on fire and shot himself in the head with a shotgun, Turse reported. He was about to be evicted.
A 93-year-old Michigan man froze to death in his home after the municipal power company limited electricity, leaving him with no heat in January. The elderly man had not paid his utility bill although he apparently had the money to pay. Tragically, this information was not communicated to the company, and no one from the company bothered to contact the man personally. His autopsy showed that he suffered an extremely painful, prolonged death.
Not all have responded passively or self-destructively to bad economic news. Last September the Globe reported that four protesters tried to prevent the eviction of a Roxbury woman by chaining themselves to the steps of her back porch. Organized by the Boston-based organization City Life, this effort was part of an activist strategy to block foreclosures and evictions. City Life claims to have stopped nine evictions and to have given homeowners additional time to negotiate alternatives to foreclosure.
The sheriff of Wayne County Mich., the Detroit area, has decided to refuse to carry out evictions. The sheriff, Warren Evans, has had to deal with more than 46,000 foreclosures in the past two years. His office has had the job of physically removing people and their possessions from their homes.
Evans has determined that carrying out home foreclosures conflicts with federal law, specifically the Troubled Asset Relief Program goal of reducing foreclosures. “I cannot in clear conscience allow one more family to be put out of their homes until I am satisfied they have been afforded every option they are entitled to under the law to avoid foreclosure,” he said in a written statement.
Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur has suggested a radical anti-foreclosure strategy: squatting. Criticizing the congressional failure to protect homeowners facing foreclosure, Kaptur told reporter Amy Goodman, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Therefore, stay in your property. Get proper legal representation. . . . If Wall Street cannot produce the deed nor the mortgage audit trail . . . you should stay in your home.”
Because so many sub-prime mortgages were bundled into securities and then sold and sold again, mortgage holders may not be able to locate the actual loan note that binds the homeowner to the bad loan. Kaptur says homeowners should make the foreclosing entity produce the note.
Our society has proven to be remarkable for tracking record-breaking statistics. When it comes to registering RBIs, ERAs, passing yardage and sacks, nobody is better. However, when it comes to emotional distress caused by economic disaster, nobody is keeping score. If someone was keeping score, many points would have been put up on the board. We are talking a high-scoring game.