Thanksgiving came a day early to the Altamont Hotel, but despite tough times, the SRO’s tenants were ready to give thanks.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” said Phillip Schaffer, 61, about his good fortune of landing at the Altamont, a Section 8 subsidized housing facility on 16th Street near Mission.

Almost two years ago, the former street artist was hospitalized with no home to return to when he won a lottery slot in one of the building’s 88 units.  The average rent at the Altamont is about $200 a month and most tenants are formerly homeless.

“I consider myself lucky to have a job,” said Ernesto Del Angel between bites of turkey at the Wednesday afternoon meal.  The eight-year resident currently works as a driver three times a week.  “I feel extremely lucky to have a roof over my head.” With a nod his fellow tenants he said with a laugh, “Some of these guys are strange cats, though.”

Every year, a mix of tenants and staff from Mission Housing Development Corporation, the housing organization that owns the building, prepare and serve a Thanksgiving meal to Altamont tenants the day before the holiday.

Some rituals are set in stone.  Gloria Flakes, a 20-year tenant, never fails to makes her special recipe for greens.

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The mood was cheerful though subdued as residents took in the Thanksgiving spread on red checker tablecloths. The San Francisco Food Bank donated four turkeys to the banquet for 40.

“A lot of them here they don’t have family,” said Dolores Smith, the Service Coordinator for Mission Housing Development Corporation.

That is the case for Schaffer, who plans to attend a free meal on Thanksgiving Day.

“It’s not a big family holiday for me, sometimes I see someone I know and that’s great,” he said.

“Food brings out the best in people” said tenant William Gantt, surveying the low key scene as he ate a serving of greens. “You don’t see people staggering on alcohol,” he said appreciatively.

Gantt, 56, who plans to run for a spot on the tenant association to plan more communal events like this one, said he has plenty to be thankful for this year.  Last spring he suffered a stroke, and since then, has learned to appreciate each day.

“Every morning you got to swing your legs over your bed an sit up and say, ‘last night wasn’t so bad so today can be better.’”

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born...

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