John Wuerffel wakes up every morning in a green minivan with his pit bull, Dolce. He's ten yards away from the front door of his home in Schaumburg, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago.
Wuerffel bought the home on Hampton Lane in 1971. Now, a padlock on his door, courtesy of HSBC Mortgage Corp., has him living in the front yard.
As is so often the case with foreclosures, Wuerffel's situation isn't simple. A 62-year-old divorcée, he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; his wife and children moved away many years ago.
He told NBC Chicago that he's been unemployed for over six years. Now, to make ends meet, "I steal cans," he says. He takes the cans to nearby Michigan, where he can recycle them for 10 cents each. "I gotta live," he told the station.
(Scroll down to watch Wuerffel speak to NBC, and have a look at his property.)
Wuerffel's yard, in an otherwise tranquil suburban neighborhood, is covered with trash, junk, bottles, cans, and four rusted automobiles. Neighbors regularly complain of the unpleasant sights and smells of his property, according to the Chicago Tribune.
This puts the village of Schaumburg in a difficult position. Starting a few years ago, it began taking legal action against him to clean up the property. He now owes liens for the several times workers have come by, removed mountains of garbage, and towed away inoperable vehicles. But there is little more they can do than file housing code violations, and Wuerffel refuses medical or mental treatment.
To make matters worse, HSBC foreclosed on the property earlier this year. Wuerffel says he only owes the bank $9,600; according to the Tribune, a loan officer working with him says his debts are significantly higher.
The mortgage company locked the house out of fear that Wuerffel would damage the property by bring his junk collecting indoors.
For now, he is working to obtain a reverse mortgage, where a bank would buy equity in the house in exchange for cash that Wuerffel could use to pay his debts. Meanwhile, police and social workers regularly visit his house to offer him what little help they can. He will appear in court again on Friday, facing another deadline to clean up his property.
Tonight, he'll sleep in his van, a padlock away from the place he's called home since he was 23-years-old.