Gerardo Sosa pulls up in front of 1040 Florida Street in a white 1997 Ford Mustang convertible. Sitting inside are his 11-year-old son, Angel, and his roommate, Darren Clayton. They’re here to salvage what they can from last Friday’s fire.
Sosa and his son were home eating pizza when they heard Clayton pounding on the door. They ran outside to find the second story of the house in flames. The flames leapt next door to 1045, destroying the house as well. That night, 16 adults and two children lost their home. Many of them were relocated to motels around San Francisco. The cause of fire is still under investigation.
Outside, their house looks relatively intact. Angel takes one step inside and immediately dives his nose into his shirt. “Ohhh gross!” he mumbles. The air is a mixture of mold and old smoke. The room he shared with his father is piled high with smoke-stained clothing. Angel looks upbeat. His X-box and TV have already been saved from the mess.
For Clayton, it’s the loss of little things that make him remember that he is, technically, homeless. “Halfway through the week I had to recycle my socks.” he says. “I ran out of toothpaste. ”
“Oh man, you should have told me!” says Sosa. “I would have gotten you some of ours! Now you are walking around with hairy teeth!”
Neighbors before the fire, the camaraderie between the corduroy-jacket-wearing business analyst (Clayton) and the out-of-work commercial truck driver (Sosa) has grown. “We stick together,” says Sosa. “Darren helped me write some letters and fill in paperwork for food stamps and welfare. He helped me pay for groceries!”
“Gerardo has given me rides to work,” adds Clayton quickly. “It would otherwise take me an hour by Muni.”
Since the fire, Clayton, Sosa and six of the other occupants of the building have been staying at the Mission Inn. The American Red Cross, which makes a practice of stepping in to help residents displaced by fire who don’t have insurance, paid for the first few days. The San Francisco Human Services Agency stepped in to pay for the second half of the week.
Clayton and Sosa have nothing but praise for the Red Cross. “Mission Inn is far from my job but great,” says Clayton. “Did you know ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ was filmed there? You know, with Will Smith!” Angel throws out some lines from the movie.
The American Red Cross also provided them with some money to replace their smoked-out clothing. Before they walk across the backyard, strewn with clothing and debris, Sosa squats down to roll up Angel’s new tan cargo pants. “Roll up your pants, so they don’t rip and be ugly! He’s gotten better things than he used to have!” Sosa says, laughing. Angel grins from below his SF cap.
It is unclear when 1040 Florida will be fixed up. Clayton and Sosa are not waiting around to find out. Clayton’s co-workers have collected money to help him out. He will be moving this weekend.
“It’s not all bad,” Sosa says, looking up at where flames have left their charcoal traces outside the second-floor window. He just received some good news. His newly homeless status helped speed up Social Welfare Services’ paperwork in his favor. Starting in February he will receive medical insurance and welfare benefits. In the meantime, Social Welfare is also footing his motel bill for the next two weeks and covering the deposit for the new place he hopes to rent soon.
Things are looking up, says Sosa. He was worried about Angel being the only child in a house full of adults. Maybe his new place will have kids for him to play with. Maybe he’ll have a chance at getting into a better school.
So today he is celebrating. This past December, Sosa had only been able to give his son two small gifts for his birthday. With things looking up, the duo were now on their way to Walmart in Oakland, to treat Angel to a BB gun.
As they step into the sun, an insurance inspector is standing outside the burned house next door. Clearly, this house had insurance — it is still unknown whether 1040 did or not. A mother and two daughters are standing close together, eyes cast down. A family of eight, they have been living in the burned house for the last few days, refusing to be split up. “Will you guys be OK living in Daly City?” the insurance man calls out to them.
They nod and huddle closer, uncertainly.