Squatters like Claire and her mother once had legal protection in Detroit, which required homeowners to go through the eviction process to kick them out. That all changed in September with a new law allowing police to arrest squatters and throw them out on the spot.
That terrifies Wilbur.
"I don't want them to come in and just load our beloved things onto the street," says Wilbur. "That would just about kill me."
Her daughter, Claire, doesn't seem to mind the setup. She chose to move in with her mom in Detroit instead of staying with her father.
Though it's unclear how many squatters live in the city, they occupy at least 10 vacant houses along Golden Gate Street, where Wilbur lives. It's part of the Grixdale Farms neighborhood, once a hotbed of drug crime and now a partial wasteland of more than 500 vacant buildings.
A handful of bohemians—who are mostly white—began moving into some of these houses four years ago with the idea of building a self-sustaining community from the rubble. They planted community gardens, opened a bicycle collective, and painted crumbling houses in splashes of pink, purple, and red. The house next to Wilbur's even has a slide from the roof to the ground.
"Welcome 2 Fireweed Universe City: We are a self-sustaining community of consciousness," reads a hand-painted sign out front.
Longtime residents of the predominantly African-American neighborhood eyed the newcomers suspiciously at first. A few neighbors even called the cops when their weekly bonfire drum circle got too rowdy. But a homeowner two streets down had never heard of the eclectic community.
Wilbur is very aware of her white skin color and the racial tensions that still exist in Detroit. Some might even say she's a part of the white gentrification of Detroit, she said.
"I guess, in some way, I am," says Wilbur, who sports long dreadlocks and glasses. "I know at first people probably weren't happy to see us. But things are changing. I think everyone is starting to see that we are making this a better place."
Wilbur and her daughter collect used clothing and items for the "Free Store" they opened in an empty house across the street. Anyone can stop by and take anything. The city recently tore down the house, so they are looking for a new location for the store. Wilbur also runs one of the community gardens and shows kids in the neighborhood how to grow their own food on overgrown plots of land.
A month ago, a notice on Wilbur's door said that the homeowners were past due on their property taxes and that the county would soon place the house on public auction. She checked into the option of buying another house in Fireweed that was also up for auction. The problem is that Wilbur is a homemaker, and her only income is a small alimony check. Claire helped her create a GoFundMe page online to see if they could raise about $9,000 to buy the house. They only got $1,194.