Squatters

Don't cry. Just move into one of those empty homes around the corner.

Cassy's place is much nicer. Looking at her, you wouldn't guess she's a squatter. Until recently, she worked as an instructor at Miami Dade College and as a researcher at Florida International University. Then her husband was deported to the Bahamas this past September, leaving her with the kids and a mortgage. "I don't mean to cry crocodile tears," she says. "But we paid our dues."

The county put a lien on her North Miami home, and police officers eventually kicked her out. She tried to rent an apartment but was broke and had bad credit. "The shelter system is hell," she adds. "It isn't made for human beings." With no place to stay, she was forced to send three of her kids to live with her husband. This prompted "a nervous breakdown" and a trip to the psychiatric ward. After she recovered, a volunteer referred her to Rameau a month ago.

With his help, she moved into the 1,450-square-foot house, which sold for $430,000 two years ago and is now worth about $263,000, according to county records.

Standing in her spacious kitchen, as the yellow afternoon light creeps through the window shades, she talks about her new part-time job selling T-shirts. Her plan is to get her kids back and pay the mortgage on the house. "I'm not trying to be a freeloader," she says. "I just finally feel like I'm home. I am ready to fight these people."

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