Homeless women ordered by a California judge last week to leave a vacant house they illegally occupied in Oakland for two months were evicted before dawn Tuesday by sheriff’s deputies in a case that highlighted the state’s severe housing shortage and growing numbers of homeless people.
Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies, some dressed in military-style fatigues, escorted the women from the home and bound their hands with plastic ties as dozens of community activists on the sidewalk chanted “Let the moms go! Let the moms go!” and recorded the chaotic scene with their cell phones.
Video showed one deputy slamming a battering ram against the house’s front door.
“They came in like an army for mothers and babies,” said Dominique Walker, one of the mothers who was not arrested. “We have the right to housing. This is just the beginning.”
How permanently the women have changed the conversation around what is an intractable — and statewide — problem remains to be seen. Federal officials said last month that an uptick in the U.S. homeless population was driven entirely by a 16% increase in California, where the median sales price of a home is $500,000 and is even higher in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Oakland women have said nobody should be homeless when investment companies are buying and fixing up properties to sell at profit. The occupied house in the distressed West Oakland neighborhood is owned by Wedgewood Inc., a Southern California real estate investment group that bought the property at a foreclosure auction last year for just over $500,000.
Sgt. Ray Kelly, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, called the high-profile eviction a success because authorities feared a potential for violence.
Officers had to use the battering ram to get into the house because the back and front doors had been fortified, Kelly said. Two women and a man who were inside were arrested after they were given 5 minutes to leave and did not, he said. A fourth person was arrested outside the house.
“There was a tremendous amount of work that went into this and we had to think outside the box a little bit,” Kelly said.
Officers then boarded up the house with plywood and said it is up to Oakland police to arrest anyone caught trespassing. The house did not contain many belongings, Kelly said, and Wedgewood is responsible for returning those belongings.
Kelly said the department is considering billing Wedgewood for the “tens of thousands of dollars” associated with enforcing the eviction.
The people arrested will be booked on misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstruction, he said. No children were present during the 5:15 a.m. eviction.
Wedgewood said in a statement that the company was pleased “the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully.”
The women and their children moved into the three-bedroom house in November, partly to protest the methods of speculators who they have claimed snap up distressed homes and leave them empty despite California’s severe housing shortage and growing numbers of homeless people.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Patrick McKinney ruled last Friday the women did not have the right to stay and had to leave within five days. McKinney said the courtroom was not the place to address issues of housing and homelessness.
Still, McKinney allowed lawyers for Walker, and her recently formed collective, Moms 4 Housing, to make their case. They argued that housing is a right and that the court must give the women the right to possess the house, especially because it sat vacant for so long and because the alternative would be to send the women to live on the streets.
Moms 4 Housing said after the eviction that its efforts will continue despite the arrests.
“We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moments notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families,” the group tweeted. “This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live.”