Community efforts raised $140,000 to help 67 individuals displaced by a five-alarm fire at 29th and Mission streets last month get back on their feet.
The Mission Economic Development Agency dispersed some of that money Friday night at the Salvation Army Community Center at 1156 Valencia St near 23rd street.
Most of those picking up their checks are still without permanent housing and expressed serious concerns about the city’s efforts to relocate them.
“We have nowhere to go but the streets tonight,” said Kimberly Walley, a tenant displaced from the Graywood Hotel, the fire damaged SRO at 3308 Mission St.
Like many of the other SRO tenants, Walley and her husband have been put up by the Human Services Agency in different SRO’s around the city for the past month. Only three families have been housed permanently in affordable units in the Mission District through the Mission Housing Development Corporation, according to its executive director, Sam Moss. The others continued to shuffle between hotels and SROs.
“The heartbreaking thing about a fire is that there’s really nothing we can do to put you in the same position as you were in before,” Mission District Supervisor David Campos told the tenants.
The $140,000 was raised over the month following the June 18 fire that damaged six buildings, including a low-income Single Occupancy Hotel. The fire displaced 39 households.
The money was raised at events hosted by local bars and businesses, community contributions, and funds pulled from MEDA’s Mission Tenants Fire Fund.
Community activist and former Mission supervisorial candidate Edwin Lindo set up a crowdfunding page within hours of the fire starting, and that campaign alone raise some $51,000 from 859 donors, and a separate fundraiser was organized by Google employees that raised over $60,000.
Gabriel Medina, policy manager at MEDA, said that “100 percent of the funds” were going to the tenants, but that the amount each household received was calculated by a base amount per unit plus a base amount per person.
“We didn’t want to punish people for overcrowding,” said Medina, meaning that tenants were doubling up in single person units illegally. “We know that people who overcrowd are usually more likely to be economically vulnerable.
Additional funds were allocated for seniors, children, single parents, and tenants who lived in units that had to be demolished after the fire, meaning that they lost their right to return.
Medina added that Friday’s disbursement was only the first round of checks and amounted to 60 percent of the money raised. Tenants could expect to receive the rest sometime in September, he said.
Walley said through tears that while she was grateful for the $2,000, but it failed to solve her long term problem of finding a place to live. She said that she and her partner were kicked out from one of the SRO’s in the Tenderloin where the city had placed them because they “have too much stuff.”
Walley, who was homeless for 13 years before moving into the Graywood five years ago, said she has been suffering from depression. “I don’t want to be here anymore, I’m tired of being moved around,” she said.
Most recently, she said, they have been staying at an SRO in the Mission, but the hotel was infested with bed bugs. As proof, she offered cell phone pictures that showed red welts and rashes on her arms and face.
“We literally have nowhere to go after this,” the woman said, adding that she had turned down a bed in a shelter because she was unable to bring her belongings with her.
Stephanie Williams, another tenant displaced from the Graywood who has also experienced homelessness in the past, shared a similar experience. She is currently housed at a Mission SRO.
“I don’t want to stay there,” said Williams. “I want to go back home. I would rather stay outside until then.”
Marline Molina, a caseworker with the Salvation Army confirmed that some of the tenants were offered housing but declined it for reasons such as location or the condition of the building.
“If you start declining, it’s going to get more difficult,” said Molina. “You can’t have them in the hotels that long, because in San Francisco, they are very expensive.”
But many of the tenants said they had no choice but to decline their offers, because the conditions at the hotels were “poor.”
“They haven’t seen the places in which they are putting us,” said Cristel Gutierrez, also displaced from the Graywood along with her partner. Gutierrez said that she was offered an SRO room on 8th and Howard streets, but declined because the room was “disgusting.”
“They wanted us to pay the same rent as at our old place, but the room was much smaller and dirty,” she said. “When I refused the place, they told me that my case is closed.”
Ben Amyes, the city’s emergency services, confirmed in a phone interview that the process of housing the SRO tenants has been especially difficult.
“For the apartment dwellers, I was able to come up with apartment solutions that worked relatively quickly,” said Amyes, adding that “the Graywood is a completely different story.”
“A lot of the SROs have been master leased by the city to get homeless folks off the streets,” said Amyes. “Now I have this displaced SRO population and I’m having a heck of time identifying another block for them.”
After hearing the tenants’ complaints, Campos said that more city resources are needed.
“Right now the city has one person who helps these families when there is a fire, and that person is supposed to do everything including finding them housing,” said Campos. “That is just an impossible job.”