After being homeless for the past decade, Jessica Meyers can officially shed that title.
“I feel like I’m in a daydream,” Meyers said. “I just feel like this was supposed to happen. It was a dream realized.”
On Wednesday, the Public Housing Authority (PHA) signed over the deed to the abandoned rowhome Meyers had been squatting in for the past eight years.
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The 28-year-old won the right to buy the house at a PHA auction in July for $8,000 and, on Monday, she went to settlement to deliver outright the auction balance owed.
“It feels good to make someone happy who earned it,” said Jena Marino, the transaction coordinator at Surety Title Company in Old City. “She deserves it. She’s gutsy.”
With her hair dyed blue, Meyers walked into the closing with a certified check for $7,496. She walked out with a manila folder, a copy of the paperwork and a big smile on her face.
“I have $50 in my bank account. I don’t care. I have a house,” Meyers said.
To raise the cash for the purchase, she posted two online fundraisers that netted about $4,000 in donations from strangers. Money from friends added another $3,000 to the pot and Meyers earned the rest from working odd construction jobs and selling the majority of her belongings at a South Jersey flea market.
Determined to make the purchase happen, Meyers raised all the money in just eight weeks for the rowhome she nicknamed "pop-a-squat."
As a teen, Meyers left Syracuse, her hometown, and traveled the country hitchhiking and hopping freight trains from California to Louisiana. She came to Philadelphia and put down roots as a squatter eight years ago.
“It’s remarkable to go from street homelessness to homeownership,” said Laura Weinbaum of Project HOME. “Hers was the kind of perfect storm, a person experiencing a ton of connections in the community and pooling of resources to help her get to this place and build toward buying the house.”
Weinbaum estimates there are about 500 single homeless persons on the streets of Philadelphia and approximately 12,000 homeless persons total, based on the numbers of persons who presented themselves at shelters in 2012.
Now that the purchase of Meyers' home has been secured, she turns to the real problems associated with homeownership. She’ll work to get the water, electric and sewer turned on, and fix up the interior.
Meyers also has to deal with an issue plaguing the abandoned home next door. A tree had been growing through the house and fell down earlier this month. She’s hoping the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections will work to secure the property, which has a gapping hole in it.
There’s at least a dozen boarded up houses on Meyers' block in Millcreek. While her friends call the neighborhood "dumpy" she sees it as a friendly, close knit community where people sit on porches and watch out for each other.
Her West Philadelphia neighbors adore her. She drove out the drug dealers that once occupied the abandoned house, and partakes in block parties and cleanups.
"If all squatters were like her, it would be wonderful," said neighbor Bee Maurer. "They are a welcomed addition. They weren't just taking from the neighborhood they were putting something in."
As Meyers is working to make the house livable, she plans to stay with a friend until those major repairs are resolved.
Meyers' journey has people divided over how she attained her new home.
Ave Maria Pospieck-Schnerr posted this comment on Sept. 10: “while I giver her kudos for "trying" to turn her life around....she did not have to "really" work for this....most of the money was donated...I would have respected her more for getting a job and paying for it herself....wish I could get strangers to donate money to pay my utilities and repairs....”
Meyers shrugs off the criticism because she believes she’s doing something good, blasting the homelessness stereotype. She hopes to start a nonprofit one day to help the city and PHA create a program to help homeless people or organizations turn abandoned houses into livable places that offer housing for the homeless.