Homeless people across the nation – but particularly in California, one of the areas hardest hit by the Wuhan coronavirus – are now part of a growing movement to overtake "publicly owned" houses. The group, named Reclaiming Our Homes, said their goal is to shelter in place until the virus is contained, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Roughly 10 days ago, a group of homeless people moved into a two-bedroom home in El Sereno, a suburb in east L.A. According to the group, the lack of affordable housing and the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus forced them to take action.
One of the women, 42-year-old Martha Escudero, has spent the last year-and-a-half couch surfing between friends and family, but she finally had enough.
“I am a mother of two daughters. I need a home. There’s these homes that are vacant, and they belong to the community.” Escudero, a part-time elderly caregiver, told the Times. “With the coronavirus, they want us to be quarantined in our homes, but some of us don’t have homes."
Escudero and her two daughters moved into a home with 33-year-old Ruby Gordillo, a mother of three and 64-year-old Benito Flores. Gordillo's family had been living in a nearby studio while Flores was living out of his van.
The Escudero/Gordillo/Flores household is receiving help from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. The Democratic-backed organization has called on state and local leaders to pass rent control measures, citing a growing homeless population. Homelessness is an issue the state has had, even before the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
According to the group, the home they overtook is owned by the State of California. They say the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) purchased the home as part of a plan to expand I-710, something that has been stalled by numerous lawsuits. Caltrans officials are in charge of roughly 460 houses because of this project. The transportation agency has begun selling off the homes. Previous owners and tenants who meet income requirements are given first dibs on purchasing the properties.
Even though these people realize it's a crime for them to squat in these vacant homes, they don't care.
“They say it’s a crime to come and occupy these houses,” Benito Flores told the Times. “But this is not a crime. This is justice.”
So far, the group has taken over 12 homes and they plan to stay as long as possible.
“With this health crisis and this housing crisis, we need every vacant house to be a home for those who don’t have a safe and stable place to sleep in,” Gordillo explained.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) have worked to help curb the Golden State's growing homeless epidemic by calling for homeless people to be placed in hotels, motels and whatever public properties they can.
“We don’t have a ton of supply of vacant housing,” Garcetti said. “We are primarily right now focused on hotels [and] motels…. To get to the numbers that I think we need to get to, we’d never get there just with vacant houses.”
Garcetti was made aware of the group taking over the homes. He wants city officials to take ownership of the home, but the state has to pull the trigger.