Two homeless mothers in Oakland, California who were occupying a vacant residence owned by a development company were evicted Tuesday morning, after hundreds in the community protested Monday to support their fight for affordable housing.
Dominique Walker and Sameerah Karim, members of the local activist collective Moms 4 Housing, were confronted by Alameda County Sheriff deputies early Tuesday, who forced open the door of the home they had been occupying since November.
Walker and Karim, both Oakland locals who work full time, moved into the home after they said they could not find affordable housing in Oakland for their families.
“There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are homeless people,” Karim said at a press conference outside the home in November. “Why should anyone, especially children, sleep on the street while perfectly good homes sit empty?”
Their move was met with a legal challenge by the home's owner, Wedgewood Properties, a real estate company that describes flipping houses as the “backbone” of its work.
Wedgewood won the suit when a judge ruled last week that Walker and Karim could not legally stay in the home, and said the Alameda County Sheriff would be evicting them within five business days.
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On Monday, Moms 4 Housing held a rally outside the home, drawing hundreds who came out to support the women in protesting the gentrification of Oakland, and make clear they consider housing to be a human right.
At around 5:15 a.m. Tuesday, they were met by dozens of sheriff deputies who were armed with riot gear, assault rifles and an armored vehicle. The eviction resulted in the arrest of three people inside the home and a fourth person outside the home who have been charged with resisting and obstructing the eviction process, all misdemeanors, NBC Bay Area reported.
Two of the people arrested were identified by Moms 4 Housing as members of the group, and the other two arrests were said to be neighborhood supporters. The children living in the home had been evacuated to a safe location Monday evening in anticipation of the eviction, the group said.
A protest quickly formed outside the home after the eviction, as about 100 community members came to the home in support of the mothers, creating a dramatic scene throughout the morning where activists demanding affordable housing were met with heavily armed police.
There was no significant incident of force during the eviction, Ray Kelly, an Alameda County Sheriff’s public information officer, said in a press conference, emphasizing his department was in a “tricky” position and had to “think outside the box” in their approach to the eviction.
Kelly described the department’s tactical element as “rather small,” and said the department took “tremendous steps” to make sure that they did not look like a militarized force, despite the presence of riot gear and a ballistic vehicle.
“Knowing some of the threats out there and some of the things that had been said, we had to have people on standby in the event of a severe emergency,” Kelly said.
Moms 4 Housing called the police’s response an “act of war,” condemning the department on social media for using “a tank and military grade weapons to take out mothers and babies.”
“We’ve built a movement of thousands of Oaklanders who showed up at a moments notice to reject police violence and advocate for homes for families,” Walker, one of the moms, said in a statement to NBC News. “This isn’t over, and it won’t be over until everyone in the Oakland community has a safe and dignified place to live.”
Wedgewood was satisfied with the outcome and was happy to regain control of its property.
“The sad fact is when you steal someone's house, this is what happens,” Sam Singer, a spokesperson for the company, told NBC News. The company said it would work with a non-profit to renovate the home, employing at-risk youth in the process.
Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, a supporter of Moms 4 Housing, said she doesn’t trust Wedgewood will follow through with employing at-risk youth.
"Wedgewood owns and buys hundreds of houses. Yet, thus far, they have not offered any of their other properties into the program they claim to be launching," Kaplan said in a statement to NBC Bay Area.