U.S. Honors ‘Squatter’ Who It Once Evicted
Last November, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development evicted Dorothea Bradley from a HUD-owned house in Pasadena where she had lived for years without paying rent. HUD officials called her a “squatter,” took her to court and evicted her from the decaying two-story house on Earlham Street she had used to store food earmarked for the poor.
Now, nearly a year later, the department is talking about Bradley again, but this time in an entirely different light.
HUD presented Bradley with a Presidential Recognition Award for Community Service Monday for the food distribution program she runs in Pasadena. She was lauded as a tireless worker who has helped thousands of poor and homeless.
“When I got the letter, I said, ‘Are you sure it’s me? Are you positive?’ “she said. “It makes me laugh. When I was fighting them, at the same time, they were deciding whether to give me the award.”
Bradley was one of 45 people and organizations in the department’s western region who received the presidential award. Other winners include the UCLA Mardi Gras, which raises money to send underprivileged children to summer camp, Phil Factor, who founded the Safe Rides program in San Diego County, and the Community Resources Council of La Habra, which serves as a clearinghouse for jobs, food and clothing for the homeless.
The winners were selected from 190 people nominated by business people, social service workers and federal, state and local officials.
Bradley’s nomination was made by Doren Wade, the Pasadena administrator in charge of overseeing the use of federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Over the last five years, the city has awarded $139,800 to Bradley’s organization, Interpersonal Developmental Facilitators Inc.
Each week, the organization distributes boxes of meat, vegetables, fish, soap, fingernail polish, vitamins and just about anything else Bradley and her small group of volunteers can find.
She drives hundreds of miles each week contacting farmers and grocery stores for discount food and household goods that can be given away.
“It’s a very worthy program, and in addition to the food, she tries to build self-esteem among those she serves,” said Geraldine Sport, a city staffer who helps monitor the block grant program.
Although Bradley can be a tiger in finding food, she also can be maddeningly lax in dealing with what Sport called “bureaucratic detail.”
“It’s not her forte,” she said.
Bradley’s problems began in 1985 when city officials told her that the program was distributing food from the house on Earlham Street in violation of city zoning ordinances.
She found herself in the unusual situation of being funded by one city agency and cited by another for operating a food bank in a residential neighborhood.
Bradley was saved by the American Friends Service Committee, a national Quaker activist group involved in peace and social rights issues. The group rented her a room in the back of its building at 980 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
But two years later, Bradley ran into more problems, this time with HUD. The federal agency owned the house where she continued to live and store food.
She initially rented the house 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.
Bradley continued to live and store food there without paying rent, believing she had tacit approval from the federal agency.
HUD ordered her to move out in 1987, and after a court battle, evicted her later that year.
Scott Reed, a HUD spokesman, said the department tried to work out a deal so the city could buy the property and rent it to her. City officials said Bradley failed to follow through on the plan.
“It’s not as though she was abruptly kicked out,” Reed said. “She knew very clearly what needed to be done.”
For the next month and a half, Bradley said she lived in her van before finding a new place to live.
She said she now pays $450 a month in rent, which takes a big bite out of the $575 a month she receives in Social Security benefits.
Her new home is “not such a great place” and does not have room to store many supplies for the program.
But she said she bears no grudge against the government.
When she received her award, Bradley said she gave HUD officials “a hug and a kiss” and asked: “Do you remember me?”
“They all did,” she said.