Exactly three months ago, Mescalero Apache woman, Niko Black was cruelly evicted from her home in Garden Grove, California. 38-year old Niko, who suffers from a rare and untreatable form of breast cancer, received a visit from Orange County Sheriff Deputies on October 10, 2012 and on orders of a Wells Fargo attorney, the officials evicted Niko from her home, even though she had a federal court order forbidding the eviction up on her door.
Due to her medical condition, Niko was practically forced to drag herself out of her own home as one OC Sheriff even waved and pointed a gun at her head while forcing her out on to the driveway of her own house. Her story spread rapidly through various media and social networking outlets. Niko has since had to endure a physical and emotional nightmare in and outside the courts.
Niko was hospitalized immediately following the eviction. While at the hospital, The Dale Macintosh Center, which had been advocating for Niko for months, got a call from Grandma’s House of Hope letting them know that they had housing available and could provide care for Niko. Days later on October 12th, Niko was transported to Grandma’s House of Hope (GHH) in Garden Grove. GHH is a faith-based non-profit organization that according to their website claims to “provide a multi generational continuum of care designed to provide services, programs, and affordable housing to under-served and underprivileged women and children.” For Niko, her stay at GHH would be another chapter in the enduring battle for her health, her home, and Wells Fargo.
Once situated at GHH, all seemed to be going well for Niko the first few days, but she would soon notice things that didn’t make sense:
“I began to notice some women would go days without food,” explains Niko, “the owner would lock up the women’s medicines, their food – and she’s not certified to do that…She would demand cash from these women - we weren’t even allowed to call 911.”
Niko would voice some of the concerns to GHH Director Je’net Kreitner, but it would only lead to violent confrontations. “She tried to shake me down, pointing at me face,” tells Niko, "‘You got money, you got cash on you, do you have friends, who can bring you cash!?’ - I was shocked, I didn’t understand what was going on. The cancer place had already told me I would be covered for months.”
Niko’s case manager, Mady Navarro, who was in charge of attending to the women’s needs at GHH also noticed some of the conditions these women were living in:
“As soon as I started working there I noticed some of the things that were going on. I was in charge of doing assessments over the phone, and I also had to say that we provided 80% of their food needs – which is one of the things I started noticing was not true. There was no meat, no milk, no eggs, the only things there was a lot of were canned goods which a lot of the ladies wouldn’t eat because it was already expired.“
The case manager would focus on GHH’s “Healing House”, which was where Niko and most severely ill women resided. Ms. Navarro describes how one woman would resort to panhandling to cover her costs:
“I found out this woman would go out everyday to 7-11 and panhandle so that she was able to pay for the program fee, which was $500. I've been in the field for over 20 years and these sorts of things do not make any sense to me!” stated Mady, “and I know for a fact that Grandma's House receives a lot of money in contributions and donations…so I started questioning, what was the Executive Director doing with all the money that these women were not being fed properly!"
At one point, Mady even recalls attending one of Niko’s press conferences to support her, only to find Je’net urging Niko to promote GHH:
“I was shocked by this woman,” explained Mady, “She started handing out business cards to the attorneys, to the reporters – whoever was there she was handing out business cards.”
The incidents at GHH were too much for Mady that she brought them up with Director Je’ent during a meeting on Friday, November 16th that year.
“I brought it up as a concern,” says Mady, “I told her about the situation with the women, and I also noticed how there was no food in the house. Can we do anything about it? Can we write grants so that no one goes to bed hungry? …I really thought she would listen, or give me some feedback, or at least tell me things didn’t work out – well, that was not the case.”
On Monday, November 19th Mady Navarro was fired from GHH. Arguing a wrongful termination, she hired a lawyer only to be made an offer to keep silent:
“She [Je’net] tried to buy me, she tried to offer me whole month of Salary but that I would have to sign a confidentiality statement – but I was not going to sign anything that would not let me talk about my experience there and what I was seeing, she couldn’t buy me.”
Mady has since been unemployed.
Unaware at the time, Niko’s battle with Wells Fargo went beyond her fight for her home.
As it turns out, GHH has had numerous monetary contributions from Wells Fargo Bank in recent years. The Wells Fargo Foundation is listed by the non-profit organization as one of its “key supporters and donors” and in 2008 they were awarded the “Charity Choice of the Year” by Wells Fargo. In 2010, GHH reported that “for the third year in a row” the Wells Fargo Foundation granted funding for one of its programs and Wells Fargo Community Affairs Manager, Joan Toan presented Je’net a check for $10,00. In 2012, GHH received another $20,000 from the bank. To add to the list, GHH’s Board of Directors Treasurer and Secretary is Wells Fargo’s Principal Relationship Manager, Sean Phillips.
During her stay at GHH, Niko continued to witness and defend against the violence occurring at the residence. On the night of December 8th 2012, Niko was to attend an Indigenous Peoples’ gathering. Wayne Dossett, Niko’s friend and health advocate, drove to the House of Hope to pick up Niko. When he arrived, Nancy, one of the managers at the residence, immediately demanded Wayne to leave, stating that men weren’t allowed on the residence, even though she was made aware that Wayne was Niko’s registered health advocate. After a call with Je’net, the manager called the police.
When police arrived, they took Wayne outside the residence and were surprised to hear what the situation was that night:
“They took me outside and asked me what’s going on, so I explained,” says Wayne, “Then the cop told me, ‘that is completely not at all what call I got. I got a call that it is a domestic abuse house and her boyfriend is coming in, broke in the house and is now harassing her’, which was completely not the case at all.”
With the confusion cleared up, the altercation ended with the officer letting Wayne take Niko, and notifying both Nancy and Je’net, who had arrived on scene, that they were not able to go through Niko’s belongings or lock her out of her residence, since Niko feared retribution for the incident.
Yet, when Niko returned from her gathering, she found herself and her roommate, also a cancer patient, locked out of the residence.
“They locked us outside in the freezing cold. It was like four or five hours,” comments Niko, “ she threw my stuff outside, and didn’t even give me all my things – my medicines in the fridge and the food that I bought – nothing.”
Into the morning of Sunday the 9th, with her belongings out on the floor, officer John Wainwright of Garden Grove police arrived. Only this time, Officer Wainwright would not acknowledge the report made earlier by another officer. Wainwright would even demand “receipts” as “proof” of residence from Niko and at one point proposed to Executive Director Je’net to do a “citizen’s arrest” on Niko, so that he could take her in custody. Forced out of GHH, the non-profit provided Niko a voucher for her to continue her residence at a Motel 6 in Westminster where the nightmare would only continue.
Facing the 22 Garden Grove freeway and situated next to a smoking room, the “smoke-free” Motel 6 room was not suited for Niko’s health that worsened as the days went by. Making numerous calls for help, friends of Niko had to stay with her and even rush her to the emergency room. Yet, in this room she would spend her 38th birthday, her Christmas, and her New Year‘s where all she would hope for is to be able to return to her home so that she could live at peace.
Deplorable living conditions for her medical state, and an expiring voucher forced Niko to leave the Motel 6. Upon checkout on January 6th this year, Motel 6 management would not give Niko a receipt for her room. When they noticed the presence of our cameras they called the local police.
As the police arrived, Wayne was forced to carry Niko into the Motel 6 office so that she could obtain her checkout papers. The papers, though, indicated that Niko’s room was paid for on December 8th, 2012 even though Niko didn’t arrive there until the morning of the 9th. Management refused to give any statements in regards to the dates.
Without anywhere to go, Niko is once again forced to live at a Motel where she lacks the necessary medical attention.
Last Tuesday, Niko’s cars were towed off her property and the wheelchair-confined Apache woman was confronted by Garden Grove police, Orange County Sherriff Deputies, as well as Wells Fargo private security denying her entrance to her home to retrieve some belongings. She was threatened with being arrested if she entered the property.
Niko’s friend, Mitzi Cristobal, spoke out at the Garden Grove city council meeting that same day addressing the some of the issues:
“On November 13th she [Niko] was granted by the courts for the opportunity for her to go to her home and collect her items,” stated Mitzi, “Not only did they not let her in, but they also threatened her, that if she stepped into the property, they would have the Wells Fargo security guard do a citizen’s arrest”
Mitzi also demanded an investigation to the incidents that have been occurring at GHH:
“She was placed into a home that we thought was a charitable fund after her being displaced on October 10th. The home ended up being funded by Wells Fargo. The lady who owned the home ended up firing a social worker because the social worker was helping Niko. She ended up being very abusive…The bed was paid for by Breast Cancer Angels and yet the owner is asking her [Niko] for $500 cash!....She got kicked out, Garden Grove police department came and asked the owner [Je’net] to do a citizen’s arrest on her so I [the officer] can arrest her…These things you guys need to look into. Because we cannot do a police report, we’ve been having to record every time that the Garden Grove police department is refusing her police reports…There is something deeply wrong going on here and you guys should find out.”
The council assured Mitzi that they would “look into it” and get back with her.
Niko had originally planned to attend the council meeting, but was not able to due to her deteriorating health. Her doctors have urged Niko to go to the ER.
This morning, a moving truck and two PODS containers were at Niko’s home on Shannon Ave in Garden Grove. Neighbors say the containers arrived there around 8:15 this morning. Neither Wells Fargo’s private security nor the moving company would provide any documentation giving them access to Niko’s belongings. “You have to take that up with Wells Fargo,” said the security guard posted at the driveway.
Niko has made failed attempts to gather belongings, only to be threatened with arrest.
During a demonstration at the Anaheim police station on October 22nd last year, Niko recounted telling Orange County Sheriff deputies on the day of her eviction, “I told them, If I have to stay alive just to watch you go to jail, I will.” She continues on that promise even with her worsening condition. A petition to get Niko’s house back has been circulating since her eviction, and supporters have held demonstrations against Wells Fargo for their unjust practices.
Not loosing hope, Mitzi urges the community to come together and help Niko out:
“We need to stand together and stand up for each other, especially for those who are being abused and have no help.” She adds the there must be justice for those who have been wrongfully foreclosed on:
“The foreclosure crimes against her go far beyond just her [Niko]. Wells Fargo just came to a settlement of having to pay $25 billion to 450,00 people for foreclosures that happened in 2010-2011. That doesn’t even scratch the surface…Niko was a victim of fraud and is being abused by the system because she is easy pickings being with terminal cancer.”
Mitzi explains that the best support for Niko is community action:
“Niko is at the moment homeless and living in a hotel. If you can't help monetarily, you can help by keeping her story going. Share it…show up to rallies and the Garden Grove Council Meetings…All she wants is Justice.”
Friends continue to support Niko in any way they can. Since some of them have been denied police reports, they have resorted to filming and photographing most of the encounters with OC Sheriff Deputies, Garden Grove police, and Wells Fargo. Updates and a link to donate to help Niko can be found at her page NikoBlack.com.