Some of Miami's homeless have found themselves a novel way to get a decent roof over their heads — inside vacant, foreclosed homes. And although it's against the law, the city has yet to act.
Marie Nadine Pierre and her four children moved into a four-bedroom house three weeks ago, which is actually owned by Lehman brothers. The previous owners defaulted on their mortgage. For months, the property has sat empty. Even at the drastically reduced price of $160,000 from the $460,000 for which it sold, no one’s bought it. For the Pierre’s, the house is a clean and spacious home for them, a world away from conditions at the local shelter.
"This has a walk-in closet and it has a bathroom," said Pierre. "It's like a blessing. Its like all the holidays come together at once."
Pierre was able to get into the home with the help of Take Back The Land, an anti-poverty organization that matches government-owned and foreclosed homes with the homeless.
"We think that vacant properties, when there are people living outside, is not good use of land," said Max Rameau, co-founder of Take Back The Land.
Florida, especially the Miami area, has been one of the states hit hardest in the U.S. property downturn, largely due to over-building and speculation.
Although the activity is illegal, it has yet to be enforced by authorities. A spokeswoman for the city of Miami told FOX News that it's aware of the situation, but no arrests have been made, adding that authorities only react to squatters if someone complains.
"Unless the owner of the property calls to complain, we have no way of knowing someone is squatting there," said Miami City spokeswoman Kelly Penton.
And, for now, the neighbors — those legitimately living there — aren’t saying a word.
Proponents of the organization say it vets the "squatters" and helps hold the value of the neighborhood because the homes are no longer abandoned or turned into drug dens. In addition, the group informs the neighbors of what exactly is going on.
Sometimes, Rameau said, it's not easy getting access to the homes.
"Depends on the place, sometimes there's a window open or door open, and other times there's not," he told FOX News. "And if there's not, then we have to find other ways of getting in."
Pierre said she worries every night about arrest and eviction.
"My gosh, I'm a mother of four kids," she said. "I don't want to go to jail."
But she's willing to take the risk.
"I'm desperate," Pierre said. "I'm literally one of those desperate people who have had to just take this place."
Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC's Miami-based correspondent.