More than two dozen families and single mothers marched from the Coalition on Homelessness offices on Turk Street to City Hall early Tuesday afternoon, demanding a meeting with Mayor Ed Lee to discuss the housing crisis that has displaced hundreds of families and left them without any resources for their young children.
Instead, Joaquin Torres, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, came out to talk to them.
“I would love to sit with you and hear your concerns,” said Torres. “I would like to have that opportunity right now.”
“Talking to you and talking to the mayor are two different things,” said the distressed family members, who had a back-and-forth argument with Torres for about 20 minutes.
Neither side would give in. Torres requested that the families meet with him and allow him to evaluate their situation before securing any kind of meeting with the mayor, and the families demanded a fixed appointment before meeting with anyone other than Lee.
Many members of the group made sure their voices were heard.
“We know that he has the power to change this situation and we want to meet him,” yelled a parent.
“I have a question,” interjected a small woman with short hair. “Why is it so hard for us to meet with the mayor?”
“He said he would put people first and I’d like to know what people he’s referring to,” said another man in a worn leather jacket.
To all of this Torres calmly replied, “A lot of people want to meet with the mayor.”
Earlier, Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, rallied dozens of families gathered in front of the large brown doors of the mayor’s office in City Hall.
“What do we want?” asked Friedenbach.
“Housing!” replied the group of angry parents, their children standing nearby in torn sweaters and old shoes.
A group of homeless parents have been seeking a meeting with the mayor since Oct. 26, according to the press release.
They want Lee to listen to their demands and open up affordable housing options. However, the mayor’s office has declined to schedule an appointment.
Before marching up to the mayor’s office, the families gathered just outside of City Hall to share their experiences.
“Like many SRO families, I wish there was a better environment for our children to grow,” said Donna, a single mother living in Chinatown.
Added another advocate for the homeless: “If one city official were fired, the city could afford to house 50 families. That’s five-zero.”
There are currently 37,000 people in San Francisco who have been wait-listed for public or Section 8 housing, according to the Coalition. There are also 267 homeless families seeking shelter.
Some families have waited more than six months before securing a room in a shelter, often forced to live with friends, out of cars or simply on the streets.
“Before, families had hope to stay in a shelter, but now there is no hope for the families who are becoming homeless,” said Yeseina Aviles, one of the homeless mothers who shared her story.
After telling their stories, the families moved into City Hall, waiting for each other as they passed through the metal detectors. Each family had its life packed into strollers, handing the security guards everything from bags of clothes to extension cords and diapers.
Once everyone had entered the building, they traveled in groups to the second floor, where they chanted until Torres came out to speak with them.
As the crowd grew louder with the help of a woman who happened upon the rally as she requested her own appointment with the mayor, Torres simply stood his ground, never raising his voice but at times taking his cellphone out of his coat pocket and typing a few things, and occasionally raising his hand in an attempt to calm the crowd.
Behind him stood three security guards, calmly chewing gum as they protected the doors of the office from the crowd.
“I feel like he had our support when we put him in office and now we don’t have his support to find homes,” said Patricia Jones, 46, who lost her home approximately six months ago when she temporarily left her apartment to care for her physically disabled mother-in-law. When she returned, she received an abandonment of property notice.
Jones, like many other mothers, has stayed at shelters, but she said that the space is inadequate for her and her three children, two of whom are disabled.
“I feel I should go out there and camp on his yard,” Jones said.
When Torres and the group finally decided they could not reach an agreement, Friedenbach led the families to various supervisors’ offices. Supervisor Jane Kim’s was one of the few to open its doors to the group. There, various parents, mostly mothers, shared their experiences and those of their children.
Supervisor John Avalos, who ran against Lee during the recent mayoral election, also listened to the families and agreed to hold a hearing for them at City Hall on Dec. 12. According to Friedenbach, Avalos plans to introduce the proposal next Tuesday to set up the hearing.
Although the group was not successful in securing a meeting with Lee, Friedenbach said that the action had an impact on city officials, and it was a win for the parents to have had their voices heard.
“We’re going to be meeting about what our next steps are, but we’re going to keep coming back,” she said. “We had talked about doing some kind of occupy thing at City Hall, or we might do something else.”