Squatter Who Feeds the Poor Fights Eviction

October 25, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

The federal government was hoping to avert a confrontation, hoping that Dorothea Bradley might voluntarily pack up and leave the home at 783 Earlham Ave. in Pasadena.

But Bradley, a stubborn woman who operates an emergency food program from the run-down house, has vowed that she will not go silently.

She says the only way she will leave the home--which is owned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)--is if county marshals forcibly remove her.

That could happen as early as Tuesday.

'United We Stand'

"Let the games begin," Bradley shouted. "They won't just have to move me. A lot of the handicapped and poor people we feed will also be here waiting for them. It's united we stand.

"That's what this is all about. The handicapped people taking care of themselves."

For seven years, the 40-year-old Bradley has lived as a squatter in the two-story frame house. Shortly after moving in, she began handing out food to handicapped and poor people who would line up outside her back door. Today, she helps feed about 50 families each week from boxes overflowing with poultry, fish, bread and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Goes Far for Food

Bradley, who has a doctorate in behavioral psychology and speaks seven languages, drives hundreds of miles a week gathering the food. She cajoles farmers in Northern and Central California to sell her produce and fruit at cost. She has been known to drive 650 miles in a day for a good buy on fish.

She and a group of handicapped volunteers--some of the same people who stand in line for the food--have even picked the fruits and vegetables themselves. Bradley says she wants to instill a sense of self-worth in the dispossessed. To that end, she charges $5 for each box.

Her program has so impressed Pasadena community block grant officials that they have provided Bradley with more than $100,000 in federal funds over the past three years.

The Pasadena office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social activist agency, has donated part of its building to Bradley. Last week, she began using the large room as a food distribution center.

But Bradley says she still needs the Earlham Avenue home. Besides living there, she says, she uses it to store food and give comfort to needy families.

"The home is still where people come with their problems," Bradley said. "Last night, a man came by at 3:30 in the morning. He was homeless and he wanted food and to know where to go next. The home is their link with reality. We've got to have that."

Local officials, quick to praise the program, say Bradley has only herself to blame for the eviction. Bradley has never been one for details, they say. Her contempt for bureaucracy has gotten her into repeated trouble. The eviction is only the most recent example.

Bradley began renting the home in 1981 from a man who had purchased it with a private loan insured by HUD. When the man failed to make his mortgage payments, the lender foreclosed on the property. But Bradley continued to live there, believing that she had at least tacit approval from the federal agency to do so.

Bradley said she had several conversations in 1984 and 1985 with HUD officials in Washington and Los Angeles. Bradley said the officials told her of an obscure law that empowered the federal agency to make homes available, free of rent, to nonprofit organizations such as hers.

But Bradley never confirmed her conversations through letters or wrote down the names of the officials with whom she talked.

In May of this year, HUD notified Bradley that she had 30 days to vacate. When Bradley refused, HUD took her to court. Last month, Pasadena Municipal Court Judge Phil Argento ruled that the federal agency had a legal right to evict Bradley.

Last week, county marshals acting at the behest of HUD posted a writ of possession on the house. It gave Bradley five days to vacate, a deadline that will pass Tuesday.

Bradley and her attorney, Mark Meador, believe the federal agency could have found a solution short of eviction.

"I'm bewildered that HUD has been unwilling to find a middle ground with which everyone can live," Meador said. "There's no need for a bad guy in all of this."

But HUD officials in Los Angeles argue that Bradley has been allowed to live in the home rent free for the past several years. They deny that by allowing her to do so they sanctioned Bradley's status as a squatter.

Bill Christiansen, a local HUD administrator, said that although the federal agency was assuming title to the home, it tried to get the private mortgage company to evict Bradley. When the lender failed to do so, local HUD officials asked the Washington office for permission to reconvey title to the lender. But HUD in Washington decided against that course. Shortly thereafter, local HUD officials proceeded through the courts to evict Bradley.

"It wasn't as if we hadn't been taking any action over the past several years," Christiansen said. "HUD was not asleep at the switch here. We were attempting to resolve the matter all along."

Christiansen said the worthiness of Bradley's program was not the issue. He said that once Bradley vacates the home, HUD will fix it up to sell at a public auction.

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