Serenity Now

Homeless families seize vacant homes across L.A. to protest lax quarantine orders

The California Department of Transportation currently owns several vacant homes in the hilly neighborhood of El Sereno. (Google Maps)

“House keys, not handcuffs.”

These words were chanted by advocates of the homeless community earlier this week on the street-facing porch of a vacant home in the hilly East Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno, behind a handwritten sign that read “Shelter in the Storm.” The home was just one of 12 in the neighborhood seized by an organized group of protestors and homeless families following the first reports of the coronavirus in California earlier this month.

The protests came just before California Governor Gavin Newsom’s official order yesterday that calls for all state citizens—nearly 40 million people—to “stay at home” in the state’s fight against the virus. And while the state is hurriedly brainstorming solutions for those without shelter, this mandate, of course, leaves out the thousands of Californians who have not received the full benefits of Newsom’s billion-dollar plan to alleviate California’s homeless crisis first announced in January.

“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,” Ruby Gordillo, one of the occupiers of a formerly vacant home, told the Los Angeles Times. With support from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit advocacy group for tenant protections, Gordillo and many others are capitalizing on homes in El Sereno that the California Department of Transportation purchased and left vacated to make room for an extension to the 710 freeway.

The protesters in El Sereno are affiliated with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organization that has advocated several statewide measures to expand rent control and tenant protections, and were also inspired by the efforts of Moms4Housing, an Oakland-based nonprofit group of homeless mothers that collectively occupied a formerly vacant home this January. Though they were later evicted by cops in riot gear and tanks, it is not yet known how the city will react to the recent seizure of homes in El Sereno under the escalated circumstances.

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