On Thursday night, Lorena Hernandez and her extended family of 11 finally arrived at a city-owned house on Treasure Island — her new temporary home.
Her previous residence of 17 years, apartment 204-208 Valencia St., was destroyed in a fire on May 6 that scorched two buildings on the corner of Duboce Avenue and Valencia Street.
While her stay at Treasure Island is only until September, the housing is welcome after switching from motel to motel on a weekly basis. The challenge ahead for her and the roughly 40 others who lost their homes that day is to find housing in an extremely tight rental market, and in a city infamous for its housing shortage. At a meeting on Wednesday evening, victims said that planning for the future is difficult and efforts to raise money — like hosting fundraisers — are still in the early stages.
Hernandez, 31, a single mother of five children between the ages of 2 and 13, said she would like to come back to the Mission, or at least to San Francisco, where her children go to school and where she works at a hospital cafeteria.
“I just want to give [the children] a stable place,” she said.
“The older ones have become a bit rebellious,” she added. “They ask me, ‘Why don’t we have a place to live?’”
Her eight-year-old son, who was rescued from the fire by his mother that Sunday morning, is scared when he hears sirens.
Hernandez said she feels overwhelmed. On Thursday she attended five appointments, including visits to a counselor and a case manager who helps those who are homeless.
Margarita Acosta, her son’s third-grade teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, attended a community meeting on her behalf.
“I want to help my student,” Acosta said. “He is very resilient and has overcome adversity. He inspires me.”
Benjamin Amyes of the city’s Human Services Agency placed the family on Treasure Island, and is working with the landlord to get his units in shape so that the tenants can move in as soon as possible — though this could take years.
“This is my big concern — folks that are on rent-controlled housing a long time, and they lose their housing because of a fire, their income doesn’t match now with the open market,” he said. “They really have a difficult time finding housing in San Francisco.”
The solution might come from the Good Samaritan Rental program, which allows landlords to offer discounted rentals to victims for up to one year without committing to a long-term rental.
Amyes found two willing landlords, but the rooms were too small for the tenants.
“It’s a great piece of legislation,” he said. “We just need to get more property owners engaged in the process.”
That process would benefit people like Hernandez and those in similar positions.
Angelina Gamez, 101 Duboce Ave.
Angelina Gamez, an 81-year-old woman who lived alone at 101 Duboce Avenue, is getting help from her former employer after Mission Loc@l published an article about her situation.
The Red Tab Foundation, an organization of former Levi Strauss employees, has committed to giving her financial help.
Gamez, who was living off the small pension she earned from working at Levi’s for 31 years, broke her femur two weeks ago while she was out shopping.
Her surgery was successful, and she is now recovering in Daly City.
Alfredo Galdamez, 204-208 Valencia St.
Alfredo Galdamez, who had lived in apartment 4 since 1994, is now living with a friend on 14th Street.
He wants to stay in the city, since he works at Whole Foods in the South of Market neighborhood.
His daughter, who had lived with him but got married the week of the fire, is currently looking for a new place, possibly in Daly City, with her husband.
Tabitha Russell, 101-109 Duboce Ave.
Tabitha Russell, 23, a bartender at Miraloma Club, and two of her roommates were displaced when their apartment at 101-109 Duboce Ave. burned down. She is now living in Palo Alto with her boyfriend’s parents.
“Right now our primary focus is on finding housing,” she said — preferably in the Mission, though she has begun looking elsewhere, as the competition is fierce.