2928 Magnolia Street: Oakland Mothers Fight for Housing
Early on Tuesday morning, three and a half miles from our campus, two working moms were arrested and dragged from the vacant home they had been living in.
The mothers moved into the house at 2928 Magnolia Street back in November and had been living there ever since. When Wedgewood Properties, the real estate firm that owns the house, decided to evict them, the mothers went to court filing a Right to Possession claim stating that housing is a human right. On January 10th, an Alameda County judge ruled in favor of Wedgewood Properties, stating that sheriffs could forcibly remove the mothers and their children after five days (in similar cases deputies have been given 180 days to carry out an eviction). The mothers petitioned Wedgewood to buy the home through the Oakland Community Land Trust for the same price the company had paid for it, but the company refused to negotiate a sale. On January 12th, the mothers and their supporters (now called Moms 4 Housing) released a statement on Twitter saying, “We want to buy our home through the Oakland Community Land Trust, but Wedgewood would rather see our kids be in shelters or worse. Wedgewood won’t even discuss a selling price with us. Their ‘offer’ to force our kids out of our home and into a shelter is an insult.”
On Monday night, hundreds of protesters gathered in support of the mothers outside of their house after receiving a tip that the Sheriff’s office was coming to evict the families. At 5:15 on Tuesday morning, dozens of police officers including members of SWAT showed up outside the mothers’ home in armored vehicles, armed with AR-15s and riot gear. All of this was despite the mothers’ many public statements promising peace and nonviolence. Police arrested two of the mothers and two of their supporters and brought them to Santa Rita Jail in Alameda. Bail was set at $5,000 per person, an impossible financial hurtle for people who can’t afford to house their families. This would practically guarantee that the mothers would serve jail time and be separated from their young children. Late Tuesday afternoon, in an overwhelming show of support, people donated over $29,000 to Moms 4 Housing. The mothers paid bail and were released from jail the same day.
The city of Oakland has taken a hard line against homelessness. This show of force against one of the most vulnerable populations, homeless mothers of small children, may send a message to other homeless people and their advocates in the city.
Dominique Walker, who has emerged as one of two leaders of Moms 4 Housing, has two children who were living inside the home with her. Her 1-year-old son learned to walk in their home. Her daughter is now celebrating her fifth birthday on Saturday without a home to live in.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, there are 46,000 unoccupied homes in the five-county Bay Area. There are 6,000-8,000 people who are sleeping on the streets of our city, 28% of whom are under the age of 18. According to that data, there should be more than enough empty housing units in Oakland to house every homeless person. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, almost 70% of the homeless people in Oakland are African-American even though just 28% of Oakland’s population is African-American. In the last two years, homelessness in Oakland has increased by 47%.
Destiny Johnson, one of the children living in the home, said of the house on Magnolia Street in a video produced by Zween Works before the eviction, “My mom and lots of other moms, all who have young kids, all who are experiencing some kind of homelessness, took over this abandoned home, a vacant property, a house no one was living in for close to two years. We fixed it up. Now we live in it. We made it a home. And here it is. And here it is! Now I have a clean and quiet place where I can do my homework. So, in the morning, when the sun comes up, I like to sit on the back steps and read. And it has this little front yard with the trees. I worry. I do. I worry a lot. I worry for my mom, because she puts herself out there. And I worry for my little sister. She’s only 5. She’s a kid. She doesn’t really understand what’s — what’s going on. And I know she’s already falling in love with having a place to call home.”