Health a factor in foreclosure

Posted April 29, 2009, at 6:16 p.m.

I recently counted eight homes that are in foreclosure in Waldo County, spread over six towns. Nearly twice the number of foreclosures were served in the first four months of 2009 than in the entire previous year, according to a recent Bangor Daily News article. It is a national epidemic and it is hitting us hard in Maine. Foreclosures used to be for the unfortunate few. Now they are commonplace, creating a new underclass of homeless and jobless who disappear into who-knows-what kind of marginal living arrangements.

The costs to society are high: increased emergency care, increased demands on welfare, food stamps, homeless shelters, and other struggling family members. Loss of entire contents of homes have left people bereft of all they ever had, compounded with bad credit and the deep shame from feeling like failures, even when it has been no fault of their own. Often, it’s that deep shame that keeps people from seeking help before it’s too late.

The leading cause of foreclosures nationwide is a crisis in one’s health. Studies show that 50 percent of all foreclosures are due to medical disruptions.

If you have ever been very ill, you know that your brain doesn’t work well, your body doesn’t work well, your anxiety level causes confusion, (not to mention side effects of medications), and functionality decreases exponentially as anxiety rises. Depression sets in and a debilitating hopelessness can send the whole situation cas-cading into the hands of the lenders, who care only for their bottom line.

No two stories are the same. Every foreclosure has a tragic scenario behind it. We must suspend our usual rush to judgment, release these people from their shame, and show compassion because this is a national, nay, an international crisis, pushing people onto the streets by the tens — perhaps hundreds — of thousands. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, we know that in our hearts, and we must now inconvenience ourselves to reach out.

While President Obama asks Congress to pass bills that make it easier to renegotiate mortgages, familiar lenders are going under, no longer available. Take Lehman Brothers. They gave Barbara McIntosh a mortgage on her house — a house she owned outright until then. She needed the money to pay her medical bills, reaching six figures, “Woman reprieved from eviction as medical bills, mortgages persist” (BDN, April 23). Then Lehman was bought by a “loan service,” whose service center is in India, which can make it hard to communicate when you’re losing your home, are chronically ill, and panicking from fear.

It is one thing to see tent cities in California; it is another when a neighbor is evicted from her home because her medical bills forced her into overwhelming debt. Unless something very special happens for Barbara by Friday, she will be another statistic, one of the many losing their homes due to insurmountable medical ex-penses.

Neighbors from surrounding towns have come together to see what they can do, and what Barbara can do, to fight the profiteering lenders and the nightmare of having no health insurance. The highest priority is to find a way to give her more time to find a solution through negotiation.

In a letter to Sheriff Scott Story, we asked him to extend the 10-day moratorium that was granted to Barbara last week. Because of the sudden increase in foreclosures, many sheriffs across the country, including Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Florida communities, have refused to evict people. They realize that time is needed to work out details. A month could make the difference between living out of a truck, vulnerable to the need for emergency services at the public’s expense, and arranging the means for her to stay in her home.

Studies show that some 2 million Americans suffered medical bankruptcies in one year, making the social cost of not having a comprehensive, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system unacceptable. Barbara is not alone.

It is time for neighbors to stand up for each other and for civil servants to serve their community, not the corporations. Any day now, it could be you or me.

This story is as much about the health care system in this country, and how it ruins lives and puts people at risk, as it is about Barbara McIntosh. It’s also very much about caring about each other.

Nancy Galland of Stockton Springs is a retired owner of Fiddlers Green Farm in Belfast, which employed Barbara McIntosh 20 years ago.

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