Eviction Squad Tosses Moms on Street in Ultra-Rich Bay Area

Blake Montgomery
Kate Wolffe/KQED via AP

A group of homeless mothers was evicted from an empty house in Oakland on Tuesday morning. But unlike so many others facing eviction in America, they were not alone.

At about 5:15 am Tuesday, Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies broke down the door of a house on Oakland’s Magnolia Street, which had been reinforced from within, and removed the residents. Officers arrested two women and two men, according to the sheriff’s Office.

The women had occupied the place for months, shining a spotlight on the Bay Area’s acute housing shortage even as nearby tech companies raked in historic profits and occasionally made sweeping promises to throw cash at the problem. The scene outside the house in the hours leading up to the eviction suggested that even if the mothers had been ousted, they’d won plenty of attention for their cause.

Throngs of supporters rallied at the house Monday evening, and a few kept watch through the night. A GoFundMe for the arrestees’ bail after the Tuesday eviction quickly surged past its initial goal of $2,000 to nearly $24,000 by the afternoon. The arrestees faced charges of resisting arrest and obstruction, and had been released by about 6:30 p.m. eastern, according to an affiliated Twitter account.

Dominique Walker, a woman had also been living in the house, was not there at the time, nor were any of the children who had been living there with the mothers, according to the sheriff’s department. Last Friday, a judge had ordered the women be evicted within five business days. 

“We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moment’s notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families,” Walker said in a statement late Tuesday morning. “This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live.” 

“They came in like an army for mothers and babies,” she said. “I’m angry my sisters are in handcuffs.” 

Meanwhile, California governor Gavin Newsom visited a homeless shelter in Los Angeles as part of his weeklong “homelessness tour,” according to his office’s Twitter account. Newsom is promoting a $1 billion plan to address the issue, which includes using empty properties owned by the state as shelters, according to ABC News.

In the days leading up to the eviction, it wasn’t just the usual activist crowd but also local lawmakers who expressed solidarity with the mothers. Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan urged the company that owns the house, Wedgewood, to sell it to a local nonprofit to end the confrontation. Wedgewood, based in Redondo Beach, California, had previously said it would pay to house the women elsewhere for two months, an offer they called “an insult.” 

California Democratic Senator Nancy Skinner told the Associated Press January 7, “I want to thank Moms 4 Housing for taking that house and for demonstrating that nowhere, nowhere should there be a vacant house anywhere in California when we have the housing crisis that we have.” 

Wedgewood took a dimmer view of the protest in a statement delivered after the judge’s Friday ruling.

“It’s a violent, unsuccessful strategy to forcibly take and break into somebody else’s home. This is not the way to solve homelessness,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the company. 

After the eviction, the company released another statement, inveighing, “Wedgewood is pleased the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully. That is what the company has sought since the start.”

The mothers, whose group was dubbed Moms 4 Housing, said their goal was to highlight the failures of developers even as the Bay Area grapples with an historic homelessness crisis and sky-high housing prices. The homeless population in Oakland has grown by 47 percent since 2017, and in a March 2019 estimate, real estate brokers pegged the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland at $2,320 per month. 

Even the Alameda Sheriff’s Department felt the need to nod to the success of the “movement” in complicating their job.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of attention, protest, and momentum out on Magnolia avenue,” said Ray Kelly, a public information officer with the Sheriff’s office. “That put our office in a very tricky position in regards to dealing with the situation.”

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