By Olivera Perkins, The Plain Dealer
Chuck Crow, The Plain Dealer: Ben Shapiro of Occupy Cleveland sets up his tent to become part of the “occupation” in the backyard of Elisabeth Sommerer’s house on West 94th Street in Cleveland. The group and some councilmen helped the single mother of two get a 30-day extension from being evicted from her home as part of the foreclosure process. The efforts were part of Occupy Cleveland’s mission to take their message from Public Square into the neighborhoods.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Some Occupy Cleveland members have deserted their Public Square perch to encamp in the back yard of a West Side family who was about to be evicted on Tuesday as a result of foreclosure.
The Occupy Cleveland members said they are taking their message of corporate greed and income inequality into the neighborhoods. The group also said they were willing to try and prevent Cuyahoga County sheriff’s deputies from evicting the family — a mother and two young children — from their West 94th Street home.
But in the end, it didn’t come to that. Efforts on the part of a few City Council members and other public officials resulted in the homeowner getting a 30-day extension from the eviction.
Homeowner Elisabeth Sommerer credits Occupy Cleveland with helping her get the extension.
“The Occupy movement is mostly about the little people,” she said. “I live on ‘Main Street,’ and they helped me out.”
The group said they were glad that they are focusing attention on the foreclosure problems in Cleveland.
“Down on Public Square, we’re just being a visual,” said John Sasala, one of the West 94th protesters, who said he is homeless and unemployed. “Finally we’re doing something.”
Nathan Tolowitzki, a bike messenger and West 94th Street protester, said by moving their protest they were better able to get a crucial message to other homeowners facing foreclosure.
“There are so many who get foreclosure notices and the they lose hope,” he said. “We are telling them that they don’t need to lose hope.”
Councilman Brian Cummins, an Occupy Cleveland supporter, and his colleagues, Councilman Anthony Brancatelli and councilman Jay Westbrook, whose ward the home is in, were among the public officials who worked to get the extension for the homeowner.
Cummins said though Sommerer’s circumstances were complex, she probably bore some responsibility for her predicament. The house has been in foreclosure for several months. He said she had made contact with nonprofits and others for foreclosure counseling, but had failed to follow through by producing necessary documents.
“This really isn’t about her; it is about the process,” Cummins said. “The Occupy group has pointed out — and we know it — that the billion dollar bailouts that the banks and Fannie Mae received obviously have done very little to make the processes easier for people like Mrs. Sommerer.”
With help from Cummins and others, she was able to file a motion Monday in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas for the 30-day extension. Judge Nancy Fuerst granted it the same day. Sommerer said the extension will give her extra time to work out a rental agreement with Fannie Mae. If that isn’t possible, she hopes to find a place to rent in the neighborhood.
“They gave me lots and lots of moral support,” she said of Occupy Cleveland protesters and the others who helped her. “They walked me through the process of applying for the extension and ensured me that no matter what happened everything was going to turn out OK.”
Even though the family no longer faced immediate eviction, Occupy Cleveland member Ben Shapiro said the group of a few dozen or so intended to encamp at the Sommerer home until Tuesday afternoon as originally planned.
With the issue of the eviction resolved, the focus could now be on public education, including a vigil scheduled for Monday night he said. They settled in the backyard with pup tents and Christmas lights strung across the property.
“Bank-owned boarded up properties are just killing Cleveland,” he said. “This is our stance against destroying neighborhoods.”