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North County Times (California)

Occupy Our Homes: Movement Rallies Around Disabled Teacher's Pending Foreclosure

Nelsy Rodriguez

Don Boomer

Occupy Our Homes protestors set up tents in the front yard of the home Lesliane Bouchard in Murrieta on Thursday. (DON BOOMER | NC Times)

Lesliane Bouchard's left hand trembled Thursday as a crowd gathered in her living room. While the rain poured outside, Bouchard took on the role of a teacher, like she had for years before becoming bedridden, and she reminded those in her living room about the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

"I'm not moving," she said to cheers from the crowd. "This is my home, I don't know how else to say it."

Despite the rain, more than 40 protesters from San Diego and Riverside counties gathered at Bouchard's Murrieta home on Mountain Pride Drive for an Occupy Our Homes protest Thursday. Many set up tents intending to spend the night on the front lawn, which had become soaked with rain by the early afternoon.

Most of those who attended did not know Bouchard personally, but they decided to stand in solidarity with her to fight the impending foreclosure of her 2,200-square-foot home.

"I'd rather be a little uncomfortable than see this woman go homeless," said Lake Elsinore resident Red Imes, as raindrops dripped down his face.

Bouchard, 50, said she is on the brink of losing her home now that a spinal injury she suffered in a 2004 car accident has rendered her permanently disabled.

The crash occurred, she said, when a teenage driver slammed into the back of her car on Interstate 15 in San Diego, crushing the lower third of her spine. Bouchard underwent years of therapy to learn to walk again, only to suffer from a disease of the nervous system that ate away at her injury. She now has little use of her arms and relatively no use of her legs, she said.

Bouchard said she fought to continue her career as a Temecula Middle School teacher, but eventually the disease won out and she has been on permanent disability since September 2010.

Bouchard said she began discussions last spring with her mortgage lender, First Mortgage Corp. of Ontario, modifying her home loan to a lower monthly rate so that she could manage that and her more than $1,200 monthly medical bills.

The mortgage company agreed to a trial modification during which her payment was reduced, but not enough, she said. And by October, First Mortgage was moving to foreclose on her home.

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I really thought and hoped that I 'd be able to teach until retirement, but life doesn't always give you what you want."

Reached Monday, a First Mortgage spokesman who refused to give his name declined to comment.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has twice intervened on Bouchard's behalf and placed two separate 90-day stays on the foreclosure proceedings, she said. The most recent stay should carry her through the first part of the new year, she said.

HUD, Bouchard said, also qualified her for Hardest Hit Fund assistance, which is a program enacted in early 2010 by President Barack Obama to help people in states that have been hit the hardest by the housing bubble.

But First Mortgage does not participate in that voluntary program, Bouchard said. The First Mortgage representative declined to state whether the company has used that program.

Because it is unknown what will happen once the second stay expires, Bouchard's daughter Kristiane Chappell, who has been given power of attorney by her mother, began reaching out to groups such as Occupy San Diego, Occupy Temecula and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

"We're kind of hoping the public shame will force them to participate," said Chappell said.

And through their communication came Thursday's protest, which they said was a promise of a full-on encampment should the home be foreclosed on.

As protesters nibbled on pizza and cookies baked by Bouchard's mother, many talked about their own struggles with foreclosures and other hits they've taken in the rough economy. They signed petitions that pledged their allegiance to future occupy protests, and they documented their efforts in journals.

Many thanked Bouchard for allowing them into her home, saying it was "an honor" to stand side-by-side with their neighbors to fight what they consider to be corporate greed.

"People are so outraged about what is happening," said David Lagstein, director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment of San Diego. "If the bank is wrong, (people must say) then I'm not moving. People are going to be inspired, and more and more people are going to take this step."

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