CENTRAL OREGON COAST – Elmer “Slim” Buchanan pulls a wagon full of his earthly possessions through this trendy coastal community that attracts high end lawyers, doctors and professionals from nearby Eugene who keep summer and weekend getaway homes along this picturesque seashore; at the same time, Buchanan says he’s “invisible to such people” until they find “us squatters living in their places.”
At the same time, many of the holiday homes that squatters frequent along the central Oregon coast have owners in the Eugene area, say real estate and local tax office officials.
“When you think about the central Oregon coast beach homes, you’re talking about owners mostly from nearby Eugene,” explained one official.
Police say it’s no surprise that “we have all these break-ins,” as the recession grows and so does the practice of squatting. In turn, the number of people living as squatters along Oregon’s coast during the off-season has more than doubled, say local police who are often called in to “kick the riff-raff out.”
While police say it’s difficult to guess how many people are living in abandoned or seasonal homes along the coast, a volunteer organization in Eugene thinks as many as 2,000 or more are living this way in Western Lane County.
The practice of “squatting,” or living in someone else’s home, is how many homeless live today in this time of recession, add real estate agents who “have a devil of a time getting them out.”
At the same time, Buchanan discloses that he’s written down the codes for certain lockboxes that local real estate agents use when a home becomes vacant for whatever reasons.
“It’s not hard to get in,” he says with a sleepy smile.
“I used to have it. The Good life. Now I squat,” adds Buchanan who uses a child’s wagon to move his possessions from one squatter home to another.
Buchanan also notes that he’s not surprised at what he sees during one of his squat break-ins.
“There’s young people in there. They find out a place is in repossessions and move in,” says Buchanan with a lanky frame without one ounce of spare flesh on his bones. Beneath all his hair, Buchanan reveals himself as a 30-something former businessman from Eugene who now lives out of his wagon.
Buchanan keeps several stray cats with him.
Peering out from one of his squats, his cats peak at the world outside with Buchanan and others hunkered down in a cold, dark coastal home that’s either in some sort of bank foreclosure or is a summer home for one of the “swells,” or rich people, as the local street people call them.
“You take a snap-shot of just the coast and the Eugene suburbs and then branch out nationwide, and you have a whole lot of squats,” says Parker Levy, a local homeless volunteer.
At the same time, there’s been a decline in the number of public housing that’s available in this region of central Oregon and that just makes the situation worse, adds Levy.
Moreover, local utility companies in the greater Eugene region point to more and more homes having their power cut off due to foreclosure actions.
In turn, utility company officials also note that it’s not uncommon to find foreclosed homes occupied by squatters, including homeless people. “We get reports almost every day from our technicians who go to a home and find people living there,” said one utility company official.
According to recent congressional testimony on the impact of the “great recession,” foreclosure squatters are “common today” in those run-down and urban communities where properties are not inspected that often.
Moreover, there’s little or no surveillance of properties dubbed as seasonal or in foreclosure. The squatters say they know this, and then take advantage of this opportunity by getting one or more night’s rest from a cold and sometimes cruel world outside.