Photo by Daniel Mondragon

The 65 residents and dozens of businesses and their employees affected by last week’s fire at Mission and 22nd Street continue to attend meetings hosted by several city services in hopes to connect individuals with these services, but many feel like they are being left in the dark about what is going to happen with them.

“It’s all very confusing,” Aaron Hua, the owner of Angel Flowers who lost his store in the fire, said following another meeting. “I don’t know what the agencies are doing. They keep setting up meetings.”

San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) hosted the latest of these meetings on Thursday afternoon to give former employees a better sense of their options now that they no longer have jobs. Around 30 people attended the meeting, many from Taquerias La Alteña and Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta, the Salvadoran restaurant.

As the mostly monolingual-Spanish speaking employees shuffled into the first floor room at City College of San Francisco’s Mission campus, a slide that read “Surviving a Layoff: Rapid Response Orientation” greeted them on a projection screen.

The meeting, which lasted roughly an hour, was a whirlwind of information. Representatives from San Francisco Health Plan, the state’s Employment Development Department, and the city’s office of workforce development spoke of the options now available to those who have been left unemployed by the fire.

“Once you are earning less money because you aren’t working, you need to reduce your finances wherever you can,” Carmelo San Mames, the workforce business services specialist, said.

Dori Martini, the Health Coverage Programs Training Specialist at San Francisco Health Plan, explained the differences between Medi-Cal and Healthy San Francisco, ending her brief presentation by suggesting the participants go to another workshop at 1800 Market Street on Saturday that will specifically focus on healthcare options.

When asked how many people in the room already had health insurance, only five raised their hands.

San Mames told the audience that San Francisco currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates – 3.8 percent compared to the nation’s 5.8 percent – in the country and that finding work now should be easier than it has been in years. He went on to say that the best option for the people present was to ask their informal networks – family, friends, former bosses – if they have heard of any job openings.

“Even though the fire was an unfortunate event, this is one of the greatest times to be in business and looking for work,” San Mames told the crowd.

Most employees, however, had more immediate concerns.

Claribel Cruz, Mirma Vega, and Marta Reyes – all employees of Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta – said after the meeting that they have yet to hear from their employer or be paid since the fire.

Vega, who worked at the restaurant for nine years, has until today to pay January rent. She cannot currently do that without a paycheck, and her landlord has threatened to kick her out, but there was little at Thursday’s meeting to relieve her anxiety.

B. Vivian Estrada from the Employment Development Department addressed unemployment, explaining that to qualify for unemployment, each person must say that they have been looking for work and have an address where they can receive their funds. Yanira Sanchez, both a former resident and employee, asked what people who lost their home and job were supposed to do since they have no address and no money.

Estrada grimaced. “Maybe use a P.O. Box or a relative’s address.”

Hua from the flower shop said, “I was expecting to get more information about getting back into the building, but the meeting was all about employees.”

His only employee was his sister, he said, and she will be taking some time off from working.

At the end of the meeting, the employees from Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta said that they would have to go through the materials handed out at the meeting again to make sense of everything.

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Andra Cernavskis is a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. She is Canadian by birth but grew up in New Jersey and then San Francisco's Miraloma neighborhood. She has also spent time in Toronto, Buffalo, and Montreal. The Mission is one of her favorite neighborhoods, and she is thrilled to be back reporting in San Francisco.

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