In California, homelessness has been labeled by many as a “crisis” — more than a quarter of the nation’s homeless population lives in the state.
Homelessness in the state grew by more than 16% — about 21,300 people — in 2019 alone, according to the latest official count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Oakland, homelessness increased nearly 50% over the past two years due, in large part, to rising rents and evictions.
Counties across the state have been proposing old and new — and sometimes controversial — methods for addressing the issue.
With an estimated 4,000 vacant land parcels in Oakland, single mom Dominique Walker says utilizing those homes as shelter is one solution to the city’s rapidly growing homeless population.
After escaping domestic violence in Mississippi, Walker moved to the port city with her 14-month-old son and 5-year-old daughter. She says she knew finding affordable housing in the area would be difficult — but had no idea her family would end up facing homelessness.
After trying to commute miles and miles for her job and living out of hotels with little ones to care for, she says she eventually began squatting in a vacant home within the city limits with Sameerah Karim, another single mother.
“We had no choice. It was desperation. It was getting cold and it became a matter of what any mother would do for her children is to find shelter, make sure that they are safe,” she says. “And this is the reality that we're faced with in Oakland.”
Other moms eventually joined the abandoned home and together they formed “Moms 4 Housing,” an advocacy group that aims to “reclaim housing for the Oakland community from the big banks and real estate speculators.” The group identifies housing developers as speculators.
Now, Walker and the other mothers are facing possible eviction this week from Wedgewood Incorporated, the property management company that owns the home.
Walker says it’s unacceptable that mothers and children are living on the streets, and is calling for the government to recognize the “right to housing,” something she says is a “basic need” for all humans.
“It should be illegal to have mothers and children sleeping on the street in winter — working moms that are going to work, trying to provide and coming back to the street,” she says.
Walker took to the judicial system to try to reverse Wedgewood’s eviction warning. Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the company, says the moms’ actions are breaking the law. Moms 4 Housing’s tactics are not “a lawful, moral or ethical way to change the homelessness issue,” he says.
“The home that the squatters took over in Oakland wasn't vacant,” he says. “It had just been purchased by Wedgwood when these individuals broke in illegally and began to illegally occupy it.”
Wedgewood is wrapped up in the larger conversation in Oakland about homelessness and high housing prices. Walker says in the end, profit trumps the homelessness population’s plight — and that’s why she’s taking action.
“They come in and they buy up property and they sit on them to gain profit off of them. And they come in, and they buy foreclosed homes to try to profit on somebody else's hardship,” she says. “And we want them out.”
This segment aired on January 3, 2020.