Stranger In the House
February 22, 2011 5:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I move into a squat?

Perhaps this is a bit plate-of-beans-y, and the easiest method would be to go talk to the place I'm looking at and ask, but I'm too anxious!

In squatting culture, is there generally an informal procedure when a person wants to move into a squat? Do they have waiting lists? Will they interview me or assess me somehow for how cool or useful I am? I have a tenuous connection with the place. I've attended dinner and a few shows there, but I'm not BFFs with any of the residents. Do I just drop subtle hints to a kind ear or show up one day with all of my crap and say, "Hey, new neighbors!"?

This is in the Netherlands, by the way, and I know that someone is definitely moving out soon.
posted by apophenia to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, these are communities, so I would definitely ask people what they think. I'd say be a bit audacious, but definitely respectful. If it was my house, I'd be happiest if you were looking to stop over there on your way to trying to find an empty house and squat it yourself. Maybe meeting some fellow new inhabitants to take along who frequent that place and also want to live in a squat. You'd be sure to find a lot of support in that endeavor from the community, and it would be clear that you were looking to help others find places and strengthen the network, rather than just taking a free room. Just my personal perspective. Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:35 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

While keeping your back straight, bend straight down at the knees and.....oh, wrong kind of squat, sorry.

I'd agree with what thegreatfleecircus said, rather than subtle hints or just showing up, go down the middle road of just asking someone who lives there!
posted by Grither at 5:42 AM on February 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ask directly. Probably the person you ask will be able to tell you if there's a procedure. In fact, if they tell you that there is no procedure and just to show up, you might want to ask a second person. I know nothing about squats in the Netherlands, but in the US the better sort of squat will want to meet you and make sure you're on board with procedures about safety, cops, shows, shared work, etc. Sigh. Wish I lived in a squat in the Netherlands.
posted by Frowner at 6:11 AM on February 22, 2011

Oh, to continue--another reason to ask is that they may have already said "Hey someone-not-apophenia, there's a room opening up--why don't you move in?"
posted by Frowner at 6:15 AM on February 22, 2011

Best answer: Bring an entourage.

But seriously, I'll bet most people living there are rightfully wary of people who just show up out of nowhere and want to move in. Hang out there more often, and get involved with what goes on. Make sure that you really do want to move in. They have an established culture and community, and they want to maintain it - so be sure that you want what they are offering. It can look fun and glamourous and free from the outside, but it takes work and organization and you have to be a part of that. Also, each squat is different. So get to know this particular squat and check for yourself if you fit in with it. If you decide you still want to move in, then by that time you will probably know more people and you can flat out say to the people who you know "I love this place and would love to be a part of it ". Then you can ask how they decide on who moves in, and if you can move in or get on a waiting list.
posted by molecicco at 6:27 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just get a hold of your friends in the squat and ask them when you can move in. Before moving into any squat, you must be good friends or very familiar with the other squatters. If you are a stranger, forget it. Squats, at least in the United States, are very serious business because:

a) a bad apple can ruin the entire squat for everyone, so many squatters are rightfully skeptical of anyone they don't know. Anyone's actions can bring the heat down on the whole squat, or damage the structure. Taking another person into a squat is a serious investment of the very squat in a person's trustworthiness. You could be the person that ruins it for everyone.

b) squats are dangerous. There's not a lot of locks or security at squats and there is no lease or other legal protection for you. A naive kid is a good person to rob, beat, and dump on the street with no help available at all. If you are't surrounded by your friends who will protect you in a squat, it is basically the same as being unconscious on a street corner in public. Are you male or female and have you thought about the possibility of sex crime? Unfortunately, sexual assault is not uncommon among squatters. You don't know this is a safe space.

c) squats have different cultures. What is the security culture like? What is the moving in procedure? Are there functioning committees and how many? How is food acquired and distributed? how much of the house actions are communal? Communal ownership of possessions?

d) there is no "squatting culture." All squatters are going to do things differently. IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOU AREN'T READY. You could easily put yourself in danger or put everyone else in danger. Are these squatters heavy drug users or are they activists making a housing point? How long do they expect the squat to last? Do they throw loud shows or is it a necessarily quiet house for security? There are as many "squatting cultures" as there are people squatting. Your assumption that there is a "squatting culture" isn't a good sign.

Based on your question, I would say either you have no chance to join these squatters because you are an outsider and you don't know them well enough to be anything but a threat to them OR if they will let anyone come and stay and thats stupid dangerous and should be avoided. The one thing that is way way way wrong is to just show up with your crap and expect to move in. That's the worst possible thing you can do.

So, having said that, if you really want to be a squatter:

1)Don't. If you can get on a lease, do it. Being on a lease is awesome and you can live like a squatter anyway.

2)Really, don't. There's romantic notions attached to squatting, and some places to squat can be really nice (I know this) but to get into these places requires more than just desire, and even in them dealing with individual particularity can be frustrating. I went a whole New York winter in a dumpy retired monastery without heat. Someone caught up in the false romanticism of a housing tactic is the last person I would want squatting with me.

3)Go squat on your own. Why do you think you can climb up on top of these people and benefit from their hard work (squats require cleaning and securing which can be more work than you think) without even knowing them? Go find an abandoned place and get together a bunch of your closest, closest, most trusted friends and start living there. Don't forget to clean out the mold or you won't be able to breathe later and you could end up in the hospital!

TL;DR: If you aren't BFF with anyone at the squat, you are probably not welcome to move in and it might be a stupid, dangerous idea.

posted by fuq at 6:30 AM on February 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Just don't be shrinking and timid. In my experience squats in Europe don't tend to be dragged down with rules about shared work and shows and safety. They are usually straight-up anarchist zones, not bureaucratic communes. Poking around gently and trying to "get on board" with their rules isn't going to get you very far, because you will not seem like a strong, independent person who can think for yourself and just get shit done that needs to be done when it needs to get done. That may not apply across the board, but I'd say that's the best approach, and is my recommendation after living in squats all over Europe. Just ask, and stand strong and sincere when you do it.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:35 AM on February 22, 2011

I'd recommend reading this book: Free by Katharine Hibbert. She decides to drop out of mainstream life and squat, and a lot of it covers the process of finding and entering a squat community. There was a bit of data on the experience in Europe, though she squatted in London. She found it easy to do, but finding the right balance of people was very difficult along with the obvious threat of eviction in some places.
posted by mippy at 6:38 AM on February 22, 2011

Don't think of this as "how to get into a squat," think of it as, "Some people have a place that they live and I want to live there, too. How do I do that?" In which case, the answer is, talk to them and see if they'd accept you as a roommate.

If you talk and express interest and act like a generally pleasant person, even if you're not welcomed to live there this time around ("Oh, sorry, there's another friend who wants to move in"), then, maybe the next time. Sort of like with a lot of things. Express interest, build social capital.
posted by entropone at 6:38 AM on February 22, 2011

Best answer: I just have one more thing to share: if you really want to do this, just go full steam ahead and pursue it. If you are sincere in your desires, it will be obvious. If you're looking for a free ride in a weird way, you'll be sussed out. Having lived in lots of different squats, I don't like the idea of "building social capital" or working to seem like part of the "in-crowd." That sounds more manipulative to me than simply asking and explaining your desires. Also, in response to fuq:

3)Go squat on your own. Why do you think you can climb up on top of these people and benefit from their hard work (squats require cleaning and securing which can be more work than you think) without even knowing them? Go find an abandoned place and get together a bunch of your closest, closest, most trusted friends and start living there. Don't forget to clean out the mold or you won't be able to breathe later and you could end up in the hospital!

I wouldn't recommend this, but as I stated upthread, I think you should work towards that with the help of the people in the current squat. There is all kinds of important information available on squatting new places, from scouting out the legal status of a building, to relevant laws, and the simple fact that many people in the squatter movements want to help, and can be an important resource if things go badly. There is no reason to go it completely alone, but I think the motivation to do start a new place will go far in helping you find your place in this "movement". This seems much more sincere (assuming you really are interested in more than a free and easy place) than trying to make a bunch of friends just to get your foot in the door.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:06 AM on February 22, 2011

For general squatting how-to information: there are some squatters houses that give squatting advice. Most information on the web will be in dutch I imagine. The word to google for is 'kraakspreekuur' and the city you're interested in.
posted by joost de vries at 7:11 AM on February 22, 2011

I lived in a neighborhood in the Netherlands that had a lot of squatters (although I was not a squatter myself). One group was a sort of punk rock group living in a church covered in graffiti. Another was a group of college students living in a nice apartment that they were keeping nice, and they even had an open house for the rest of the neighborhood to come and see how unthreatening they were.

In both cases, the groups seemed to be highly organized, with a clear hierarchy and rules of conduct. They did not at all seem like groups that had formed ad-hoc on the basis of whoever decided to show up. In fact, the "kraken" all seemed to take their personal connection to the property very seriously. Which is to say: The fact that they don't pay rent doesn't mean that they think their personal tie to the place is arbitrary, or that anyone could do it. In fact, I have a feeling that they would not have reacted very well to anyone who revealed such an attitude.
posted by bingo at 7:58 AM on February 22, 2011

Best answer: Re: fuq's advice. Squatter's rights are different in the Netherlands than they are in the United States, which from what I've heard from someone who did it, makes for a safer kind of squatting.
posted by aniola at 8:10 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go squat on your own. ... Go find an abandoned place and get together a bunch of your closest, closest, most trusted friends and start living there.

Please don't do this. Squatting is now a criminal offence in NL (as of a few months ago), and I wouldn't be surprised if the police are just itching to make an example of an easy target. If you don't know much about the current political situation surrounding squatting here, I would read up on it - if you're interested in the culture you'll want to know anyway.

I don't pretend to know much about squatting culture other than being friendly with a few squatters, but I suggest that you just go ahead and ask. Places in squats are usually few and far between so I'd be surprised if you get lucky, but if you don't ask, you definitely won't get.

Definitely don't just turn up with your stuff. That's no more acceptable in a squat than it would be to turn up at my place and expect to move in.

Go on, ask - the worst that can happen is that they'll say no. But do educate yourself on the current scene.
posted by rubbish bin night at 8:39 AM on February 22, 2011

Response by poster: To clarify, I was joking when I was talking about showing up with all my things unannounced. I am actually renting right now and honestly, I have no problems with paying the rent. It's not about the money for me so much as it is about being around like-minded people.
posted by apophenia at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2011

Best answer: Very last comment: I wouldn't be too scandalized by the idea you mentioned of 'showing up with all your stuff.' Assuming all your stuff was one small backpack, that tactic would work just fine at lots of different squats. Many of the ones I have lived in were amazingly open and generous, and sleeping on a couch long enough pretty much meant you lived in that squat. Our unspoken, anarchic philosophy was totally non-exclusionary, unless you were violent and caused big problems. Then you were chucked right out. But this kind of thing is definitely not always based on nepotism, and depending on different people's philosophies, bringing your stuff and moving into an empty corner would not be the most absurd thing you could do, as long as you had the right kind of positive/confident/contributing energy about it (and when you are living in that kind of way, it is just instantly obvious what kind of energy people are bringing to a situation). That wouldn't work everywhere, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. That's just to counter the scandalized attitude your possibly-jokey comment was received with.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:04 PM on February 22, 2011

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