Written by Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson
On Thanksgiving, while many of us gave thanks for the roofs over our heads and our health in a time of crisis, state police forcefully arrested and tossed 62 people out on the streets. On the nights of November 25th and 26th, a coalition of houseless families with the local organization Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community occupied several vacant houses in El Sereno out of desperate need for shelter. California Highway Patrol officers used riot gear and flash bangs to forcefully remove and arrest dozens of houseless people and the protesters who mobilized to protect them from eviction in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Pandemic or otherwise, housing is a human right. Housing is listed as a basic right and fundamental freedom of all human beings in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and enshrined in several international laws since. However, the current conditions further unmask the urgent necessity of adequate shelter. With California’s second shelter-in-place order cresting the horizon, tens of thousands of people find themselves with no home.
This year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported a 12.7% rise in the houseless population, rising to upwards of 66,400 people in the county. Nearly 1,000 houseless people have died on the streets of Los Angeles this year alone. As is the case with the disparate impacts of the wider pandemic, Black and Brown houseless people are dying disproportionately. Of the 959 deaths, 26% were Black and 36% were Latinx. California’s attempts to assist houseless people with temporary hotel rooms for quarantine have clearly not gone far enough. This is an unacceptable violation of human rights, plainly a product of classism and racism.
A single preventable death is one death too many, but what makes this situation especially egregious is the fact that the number of vacant homes in Los Angeles far exceeds the houseless population. According to a joint report from the nonprofit Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, grassroots organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the UCLA School of Law Community Economic Development Clinic, “more than 93,000 housing units were vacant in Los Angeles in 2017.” Nearly 100,000 homes sit empty, while 66,400 people are denied the right to shelter during a pandemic, putting their lives and the lives of those around them in imminent danger.
The vacant El Sereno homes are owned by the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans. Decades ago, Caltrans used taxpayer money to purchase these homes in order to pave the way for the 710 freeway extension. More than 160 of these homes have remained empty since, and the plans to connect the 710 freeway in Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena were permanently halted in 2018.
If you’re a South Pasadenan like me, I’m sure this is beginning to sound very familiar. Yes, in fact, this is the same freeway development that members of our community tirelessly fought against for decades. Many consider killing the 710 freeway extension a massive victory for South Pasadena and the preservation of our town and our historic homes. South Pasadena has a well-documented vested interest in the outcome of this 710 project and how it would have affected our community. Though the freeway extension is officially cancelled, the aftermath of this issue continues to actively affect our most vulnerable neighbors by authorizing the state to violently displace them from vacant homes and deny them the human right to shelter. We must be just as diligent in the fight to protect our houseless neighbors as we were in the fight against the 710.
Here are some actions you can take to help the evicted families and community members organizing to protect them.
Donate to the evicted houseless families here: https://gf.me/u/Y985MA
Sign Reclaim and Rebuild our Community’s petition here: https://bit.ly/33WN063
Call and email your public officials and hold them accountable. Find contacts, talking points, and additional information on this instagram post: https://bit.ly/2Ivsgeg
Find out More about Reclaim and Rebuild our Community and visit their social media pages at https://linktr.ee/rroc
Thank you to RROC for compiling much of the information and resources included in this article.
This article represents the views and opinions of the author solely and does not express the opinions of all ARC members.
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