Police in Baltimore today made what is believed to be the first arrest in a civil disobedience program aimed at supporting homeowners who refuse to vacate their foreclosed homes.
An activist with ACORN — the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now — faces criminal charges after breaking into a home in southeast Baltimore on Thursday to protest the foreclosure crisis sweeping the country.
"This is our house now," ACORN member Louis Beverly reportedly said after cutting a lock with bolt cutters at the home.
Beverly will be charged with fourth-degree burglary, according to Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police. Attempts to reach his attorney, Justin Brown, were not immediately successful.
Donna Hanks, who owned the home since 2001, lost it in September when she couldn't make her $1,995 mortgage payments. It was not immediately clear whether Hanks re-entered her home last week, but she was not expected to be arrested, Guglielmi said.
Other police departments contacted by FOXNews.com said arrests would be made if an individual is determined to be residing at a foreclosed home illegally.
"If they're trespassing and it's not their property, absolutely, there'd by an arrest," a police source in Boston said. "If they were told to leave the property and they didn't, they'd be charged with disorderly conduct."
Pittsburgh Police Spokeswoman Diane Richard said charges would be filed against any individual found living in a foreclosed home, whether that individual had previously lived at the residence or not.
"If someone is court-ordered to vacate and they do not, it would be trespassing at that point," Richard said. "What exactly would be charged depends on the intensity of the violation. It could go all the way up to burglary, which is a felony."
The flood of foreclosures across the country has already led some law enforcement officials to alter how they handle evictions.
In Wayne County, Michigan, Sheriff Warren Evans suspended all foreclosure sales on Feb. 2 until a federal plan to combat foreclosures can be implemented, spokesman John Roach said. In Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones has reportedly ordered deputies not to evict residents who have no other housing options during the winter months. And in Cook County, Illinois, where a record 4,487 foreclosures occurred last year, Sheriff Thomas Dart appointed an attorney to review all eviction orders in October in order to protect individuals who continued to pay rent after their buildings were seized by banks.
Joe Cox, a community organizer for ACORN in Baltimore, said Monday's arrest was not a surprise.
"We definitely expected some kind of a response," Cox said. "We understand people have to do their jobs and we hope that they understand that we're doing this to highlight the issue."
Cox said he expects homesteading — refusing to vacate a foreclosed property — will become common as blame for the foreclosure crisis increasingly shifts from homeowners to financial corporations.
"This program is saying, 'We are not going,'" Cox said last week. "People say we're breaking the law, but we don't see how putting a person back in an abandoned property is harming anyone."
ACORN launched its "Home Savers" campaign in New York earlier this month and plans to expand the program to at least 22 other cities and three counties nationwide in the coming weeks. Participants like Beverly say they will refuse to move out of foreclosed homes or reclaim properties altogether until a comprehensive federal housing plan takes affect.
Cox said ACORN's homesteading program has attracted homeowners at risk of losing their homes from all socioeconomic backgrounds, from low-income Baltimore city neighborhoods to the more affluent Washington-area suburbs.
"We very much like what President Obama is doing with his foreclosure plan, but there's going to be a lot of people still left out," Cox said. "What we've been calling for nationally is a foreclosure moratorium so people have time to get help from a HUD-certified agency and start negotiating with lenders to get the banks off [their] back."
Attempts to reach Beverly on Monday were unsuccessful. In a Feb. 13 press release announcing the organization's plan to fight foreclosures, Beverly called for "civil disobedience" as a last resort.
"We need foreclosures to stop right now," Beverly said. "We need a moratorium to allow time to try to get loans modified so they can stay in their homes. The banks don't really want your house — it becomes a liability for them. With restructuring of the loan, everyone wins."
At least 500 volunteers have reportedly agreed to work as "home defenders" to employ non-violent tactics to block authorities from evicting homeowners. Other cities targeted by the campaign include Denver, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Orlando, Fla.
Founded in 1970, ACORN is a community-based, grassroots organization that primarily focuses on — among other social issues — health care, affordable housing and voter registration programs. Its large-scale voter registration drives most recently came under scrutiny during the 2008 presidential race, during which ACORN reportedly gathered more than 1.3 million voter registration forms in 21 states. Approximately 400,000 forms were reportedly rejected for duplications, incomplete forms and fraudulent applications.
President Obama, who was endorsed by ACORN, served as a local counsel for the organization in a 1995 voting rights lawsuit.