A group of homeless people who had taken over several empty, state-owned houses in Los Angeles was forcefully removed by California Highway Patrol officers hours later amid protests by dozens of community activists.
Members of Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community said in a video message to Gov. Gavin Newsom posted on YouTube on Wednesday that they had taken over several homes purchased by Caltrans for the now defunct 710 Freeway corridor expansion.
Roberto Flores, an organizer with the group, said that 20 families who are about to be evicted or are homeless and have been living in cars and encampments and are looking for somewhere to shelter in place during the pandemic took over the homes.
On Thursday, only Ganil Hernandez and her family remained in one of the houses.
“We’re taking back this home because we need to shelter in place and because housing is a human right” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said she and her family have been unable to pay the $2,000 rent on their apartment after her partner lost his job. She said their landlord told them they will be evicted in December.
“We can not afford rent here in Los Angeles. We tried moving out of state but we couldn’t get a place there either. I’m doing what I can for my family,” she said.
The CHP did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
A large group of CHP officers in at least 50 vehicles arrived to the El Sereno neighborhood Wednesday night and began forcibly removing people from about two dozen homes, said Ruby Gordillo, who lives in the neighborhood and is a housing activist with Reclaiming Our Homes.
Gordillo was among a group of mothers who took over a vacant home in the neighborhood in March, inspired by women who made headlines for a similar action in the San Francisco Bay Area that highlighted the state’s severe housing shortage.
The group of mothers in Oakland took over a vacant house in November 2019. They were evicted in January but a week later it was announced the women planned to move back to the house after speculators agreed to sell the property to a nonprofit organization.
Caltrans officials said in a statement the Los Angeles homes the group broke into Wednesday are unsafe and uninhabitable for occupants.
“As such, Caltrans requested the CHP remove trespassers so that the properties can be re-secured and boarded up,” they said.
The agency said it has been working with local governments to lease several of its available properties for use as temporary emergency shelters. It recently signed a lease with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles so that 22 vacant Caltrans-owned homes in El Sereno can be used for the city’s transitional housing program.
Gordillo said those homes are now legally housing families who are a part of Reclaiming Our Homes.