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Sheriffs evicting homeless women squatting in empty Oakland house

Homeless mothers ordered to leave residence
California judges rule in favor of real estate firm that wants homeless women evicted 02:58

Sheriff deputies in California began removing a group of homeless women who were squatting in an empty house in West Oakland after the mothers' protest for more affordable housing in their area drew national attention.  

The mothers, who call themselves Moms 4 Housing, have occupied the home since November. The home's owner, Los Angeles County-based real estate firm Wedgewood, won a court battle last week to have the women evicted. In the court order released Friday, a judge said sheriffs could forcibly remove the women if they didn't leave within five days. 

"Instead of allowing us to buy this home through the Oakland Community Land Trust for exactly what they paid for it, Wedgewood CEO Greg Geiser has chosen to enact physical violence on us and our families," Moms 4 Housing said in a statement Tuesday. 

Dominique Walker, one of the moms in the home who has emerged as the group's vocal and visible leader, said deputies came before daybreak when the women and children were at their most vulnerable. 

"They came in like an army for mothers and babies," Walker said. "Our tax dollars went to this extreme force to evict mothers and children at 5 o'clock in the morning."

Hours after deputies arrived to the home, Wedgewood said it's "pleased the illegal occupation of its Oakland home has ended peacefully."

"The solution to Oakland's housing crisis is not the redistribution of citizens' homes through illegal break-ins and seizures by squatters," Wedgewood said in a statement through spokesman Sam Singer. "That is the violent, dangerous, and unsuccessful path taken by this handful of activists and supported by three Oakland city council members and the Oakland Community Land Trust."  

Alameda County Judge Patrick McKinney ruled Friday that Moms 4 Housing had "no valid claim of possession to" the three-bedroom home on Magnolia Street. One day after McKinney's ruling, Wedgewood said it offered to help the mothers in their search for housing.

"We will pay Catholic Charities of the East Bay, one of the leading providers of homeless services in Oakland, to provide shelter and assistance to the moms for the next two months," Singer said. "We will pay the charity to have their belongings moved." 

The homeless women rejected Wedgewood's offer. 

Wedgewood, based in Redondo Beach, buys, renovates and sells foreclosed homes mostly on the West Coast, but the firm also has properties in Florida and Texas through its subsidiaries. 

The company, which held almost 100 properties in Oakland alone last year, bought the West Oakland home on July 31 for $501,078 in a foreclosure auction. The company plans to immediately renovate the Oakland home and try to sell it to a first-time homebuyer, Singer said. As the mothers' protest drew media coverage, Wedgewood also pledged donate half the profits from selling the home to a non-profit that helps at-risk youth. 

The fight for 2928 Magnolia St. has thrust Oakland and California's housing crunch into the national conversation, particularly at a time when state and local politicians are pitching novel ways to combat homelessness.

Homeless mothers in California fight to maintain vacant home in Oakland 01:28

Homelessness is growing in Oakland for many reasons, chief among them the rising cost of homes and rental properties, officials and housing advocates say. The median home price in Oakland was $654,000 in January 2017, but by last fall that had surged to $758,000, according to Zillow data. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment as of November was just over $2,500. 

Oakland's homeless population grew from a count of 2,191 in 2015 to 2,761 in 2017, city officials estimate. In 2019, the city had 4,071 homeless residents, according to a report last year from homeless advocacy group EveryOne Home, which pushes to end homelessness in Alameda County. 

The problem in Oakland and across California has gotten so bad that Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order commanding state agencies to find vacant land that could hold temporary homeless shelters. Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan said in December that the city should use a cruise ship to house 1,000 homeless people. 

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