62 arrested as CHP forcibly removed homeless people from vacant state-owned homes in El Sereno

The California Highway Patrol arrested 62 people this week as it forcibly removed homeless people who had occupied several empty, state-owned houses in El Sereno, officials said Friday.

Most of those arrested were protesters taken into custody Thursday evening after seeking to block officers from clearing the properties, California Highway Patrol said in a statement.

The conflict sparked Wednesday, when people took over several homes that had been bought by Caltrans over the years as it planned the now-defunct 710 Freeway expansion.

More than 160 state-owned homes sit vacant along what was supposed to be the freeway’s corridor in El Sereno, Pasadena and South Pasadena, according to data obtained last year by the Pasadena Star-News.

CHP says Caltrans requested its officers’ assistance after break-ins were reported at some of the El Sereno properties Wednesday.

Ultimately, 21 people were arrested across Wednesday and Thursday on suspicion of trespassing and burglary. CHP says they were escorted off the property after refusing to leave “in order to allow the uninhabitable buildings to be re-secured and boarded up for public safety.”

Silver Phoenix, who went to El Sereno to support the occupiers, called CHP’s response inhumane.

“Rather than allow the community to take that effort into housing their own people, they violently removed and extracted all these families who are now wondering where they’re going to be sleeping tonight,” she said. “It’s cold. They have nowhere else to go. There’s literally someone in our friend’s car, wondering where to go.”

The large CHP response was met with a mass of protesters, and 41 people were arrested Thursday evening for alleged unlawful assembly.

All those arrested were cited and released, CHP said.

Members of Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community said in a video message to Gov. Gavin Newsom posted on YouTube on Wednesday that they had “peacefully moved into several state-owned empty houses.”

CHP responded en masse, with officers in at least 50 vehicles packing the neighborhood to begin forcibly removing people that night.

Roberto Flores, an organizer with the group, said the families involved are homeless and have been living in cars and encampments, and looking for somewhere to shelter in place during the pandemic.

On Thursday, only Ganil Hernandez and her family remained in one of the houses.

“We’re taking back this home because we need to shelter in place and because housing is a human right,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said she and her family have been unable to pay the $2,000 rent on their apartment after her partner lost his job. She said their landlord told them they will be evicted in December.

“We can not afford rent here in Los Angeles. We tried moving out of state but we couldn’t get a place there either. I’m doing what I can for my family,” she said.

Caltrans said it has been working with local governments to lease several of its available properties for use as temporary emergency shelters. It recently signed a lease with the city of Los Angeles’ Housing Authority so that 22 vacant Caltrans-owned homes in El Sereno can be used for the city’s transitional housing program.

Those homes are now legally housing families who are a part of Reclaiming Our Homes, the activist group said.

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