Squatters: Living alternatively and redefining freedom

This was the lead story published in The Hullabaloo on January 22, 2011.

Some names have been kept anonymous to protect sources, as squatting is an illegal practice.

Aside from the occasional police visit and pooping in a bucket, Laura, a 23-year-old Tulane alumna, is living the dream.

Squatting in an abandoned house in the Eighth Ward, Laura and her four roommates spend their free time playing music or creating art, as well as foraging for usable metal, tires, tools and furniture in New Orleans junkyards to fix up their newfound home.

“It’s like constant camping,” Laura said.

“Most people may not associate freedom with forgoing electricity and running water, but that is exactly how Laura’s daily life makes her feel — free.

“It’s fun getting on without all the luxuries other people think they need,” Laura said, smiling. “Every day is an adventure, and everyone here is awesome. They are all the most thoughtful, generous and life-embracing people I’ve ever met.”

But a few blocks away, an empty lot with tall, singed grass bears a stark reminder of the dangers of living this way: A tragic fire killed eight squatters — all between 17 and 23 years old — in an abandoned warehouse on Dec. 28, while they were burned trash to keep warm amid freezing temperatures.

The fire thrust the largely underground world of New Orleans squatters into the spotlight, bringing new media and police attention to the network of dwellers in abandoned buildings. Read more of this post