For Maria Muñoz, the past year has been characterized by instability.
Muñoz cleans houses for a living, but when the pandemic began, every client she had cancelled, and she did not work for four months, she said.
“I have to put myself at risk to work, but those that employ us don’t want to take that risk,” Muñoz said in Spanish.
She shares a one-bedroom apartment with another woman, but depleted most of her savings trying to survive those first four months.
“The economic help that the government gave helped a bit, and I also used some of my savings, but now the savings are gone because it’s been a year of this,” Muñoz said.
Clients started coming back toward the end of summer, but not all, and Muñoz had to adapt her lifestyle to her decreased income.
“One measure I’ve taken is not spending on things I don’t need,” Muñoz said. “Two is trying to use the car as little as possible, to not waste gas, because gas is very expensive right now. Three is coming to the food line because I can save $60 or $70 on food.”
Even now, work is unreliable, and cancellations are more frequent.
“There’s a tremendous instability nowadays. You have to live day to day, you can’t make plans, can’t plan projects, can’t count on anything,” Muñoz said.
In December, Muñoz’s roommate contracted Covid-19 after visiting a friend’s house, putting her out of work and confined to her apartment for weeks.
“I’d even sleep with my mask on, her in the bedroom and me in the living room because we share a room,” Munoz said. “During the day I’d pass the time in my car or walking around outside because I didn’t want to get sick.”
Muñoz has also had clients cancel their appointments because they contracted the virus or had contact with somebody who did.
“What’s really helped me survive is my faith, being able to have confidence that, despite what I see and what I’m living, things will be ok.”
Tree, the lead gardener at the All in Common Garden on 23rd Street between Shotwell and Folsom streets, has watched the pandemic from the vantage point of the Free Farm Stand that gives out fresh food on Sundays at Treat Ave and 23rd St.
“One thing I know is, the pandemic has made people feel more alone — especially people living outside. It has separated us,” said Tree.
Tree said he focuses his life on giving back to the community and, in addition to the garden, he has someone staying in his home who had nowhere else to go. “That is really what’s central — being of service in the world, that is what centers my faith.”
Tree recalled how difficult it was to offer support at memorials and funerals held on Zoom. You can’t touch people, he said.
More people have come to the community garden during the last year. “It teaches us how we are more connected, and we all depend on each other for cooperation. It is not all survival of the fittest.”
For Tree, his ritual of attending Mennonite church ceremonies, and giving back to the community, have offered him solace.
Concepción Consuelo, a mother of three who was stuck inside her home when her family came down with covid in December, says that she has been optimistic throughout the pandemic because if she feels sad, it will make everything worse.
“Feeling sad doesn’t serve you; it makes you sicker.” So, she listens to Christian music to feel better and takes out money from her savings to pay rent.
“Just like everyone, I am here looking for food,” Consuelo said on a recent Monday as she waited in line for food on Florida Street near the Latino Task Force food hub on Alabama Street.
Consuelo lives near the Cow Palace and came to get in line around 11 a.m. She walked forward in the line as she described how difficult the pandemic has been for her and her three children: Hector,19, Tensie, 16, and Celeste, 14.
When they all had covid in December, Consuelo was in isolation for more than a month. Nobody came to drop off resources for them, and Consuelo is still suffering from the aftermath of Covid. “I am telling you that it takes time to leave the body. … Now, my bones hurt, my back hurts, my legs hurt.”
She cleaned houses in different places before the pandemic, but now she is home with her three children, who she wakes up every morning to do their schooling. When her children ask her for help with their schoolwork, “I tell them to ask their teacher,” because she can’t help with English.
“We need more services to help us with rent and food,” she says.
Carlos Gonzalez is also out of work, and hasn’t been able to pay his rent in almost a year. Gonzalez lives in the Mission near 16th Street and says that he hopes with the new “medicine” things will get better.
But for now, he laments that the owners of his building do not understand that “it is not because I don’t wanna work” that he doesn’t pay rent. “I really want to work, but I can’t find a job. He previously worked at a restaurant at Pier 39, but it closed.
“If you don’t have a job, how are you going to pay rent?”
Elta Melendez is 40, and was shouting out for her grandson, Dylan, who was running around the street while she was waiting in line for food on Tuesday at the Mission Food Hub.
The 3-year-old did not want to sit in the plastic stroller she was pushing, so she held him in her arms. At home, Melendez has two other children, who she also has to feed. Since there is no work or unemployment, she has been making pupusas and selling them. “I am fighting for my family.”
More than anything else, Andrea Di Battista said the pandemic has brought housing insecurity into her life.
“I used to live in Berkley because I’m a student there. I was living there for my second semester of my junior year,” Di Battista said. “And as soon as the pandemic started, I had to leave the dorms, so I moved back to L.A., which is where I’m from, and lived with my boyfriend at his parents’ house for, like, seven months.”
Although Di Battista had lived with her boyfriend and his parents while in high school, she said this stay was harder.
“I think it was mostly my issues. I wanted to be in Berkeley, I wanted to be in school,” Di Battista said.
She moved back to Berkeley and sublet half of a room from a fellow student who had moved back home to Russia, but was still under a lease.
Unfortunately, her new home was not what she envisioned, partially because of the constraints of the pandemic, and partially because her roommates were “ just kind of a headache. They were a lot to deal with,” Di Battista said.
After just one month, the 21-year-old moved to the Mission and now shares a bedroom with a friend.
“I thought that this would be kind of a good time to move to the city, because it’s a little bit cheaper,” Di Battista said, “so I came here just to experience it, since I don’t think I will be able to afford it any other time.”
Unfortunately, Di Battista’s lease is ending on March 18, and her friend has decided not to extend the lease for similar reasons to those that led Di Battista to leave Berkeley — a lack of space, thanks to everybody being home all day.
Di Battista hopes to once again find housing in Berkeley, this time in student housing, which will be her fourth move in over a year.
Javier Ramirez, a Mission resident for roughly 30 years, officially retired in 2019 from working various jobs, including in a hotel, and took a three-month trip to see his brothers in Mexico that December.
“I came back for a month, and planned on going again in March, but that’s when it started,” Ramirez said in Spanish.
Ramirez decided against going back to Mexico because he thought the shutdowns might complicate travel, but later because he learned that, at 68, the virus posed a more serious threat to him.
“The first days were terrible … I couldn’t go out and couldn’t really do anything,” Ramirez said. “I’d just go into my backyard to try to pass the time.”
The first anniversary of the pandemic-related shutdowns in San Francisco also means Ramirez hasn’t visited his family in over a year, though he used to visit every six months.
Ramirez’s main wish now is to return to Mexico, and he hopes the vaccine will allow him to do so safely. He received the first dose a few days ago and has an appointment for his second dose in early March.
“It took some work, because they wouldn’t announce where to get it or how, until one day somebody told me they were giving them here at Capp,” Ramirez said, speaking of the vaccination site on 24th Street run by the Latino Task Force and UCSF.
“My family’s waiting for me,” Ramirez said.
For Gaspar Nava, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has been life saving over the last year. Every Tuesday morning, he rides his bike to Cesar Chavez Elementary to pick up free food.
Nava, who was chronically homeless over a decade ago, is familiar with hunger and enjoys the variety of food he gets, particularly the chicken, which he cooks in his public housing unit near 10th and Folsom streets.
He works delivering newspapers for Almaden Times, a San Jose community paper. When the paper went online at the start of the pandemic, Nava went from working two days a week to just one day per month.
Now, Nava spends his days standing on Cesar Chavez Street, hoping to find odd jobs.
“Normally, it’s helping people move. Every once in a while, it’ll be a job cleaning a yard or something,” Nava said in Spanish, “whatever work comes, I’ll take it.”
Nava said the hardest part of the pandemic has been not being able to go out and be with people.
“Being out free, having carne asadas with friends,” Nava lists as the things he misses most.
Nava loves the carne asada from El Farolito, near the corner of 24th and Mission streets, but said it’s no substitute for making it in a backyard with friends.
He thinks it may be possible to meet with friends again within a few months. On Feb. 18, Nava received the second dose of his Covid-19 vaccine. Being vaccinated won’t change how he lives day to day, but it will be a relief, he said.
On days when he doesn’t have work, Nava said he likes to pass the time by reading Spanish newspapers like La Opinion, a Los Angeles paper, and playing chess on his computer or watching movies.
“I just try not to dwell on what is happening, I just focus on what I’m doing and try to have fun,” Nava said.
Grizelda, who moved here from Mexico 13 years ago, loves to work hard, and has had a difficult time while being unemployed during the pandemic.
“When I stay in the house, I don’t feel good,” Grizelda explains in Spanish. “I really like to work hard,” she adds.
She lives in the Mission with her three children ages 28, 26, and 21 and spends her time going around to food lines to get food to feed her family.
Grizelda and her three adult children live in one room in a three-bedroom house they share with 10 people. Grizelda cooks for her three children using food she gets at the free food pantry on 20th Street, as well as at the Mission Food Hub.
Rogelio, her 28-year-old, sometimes works construction, or whatever job can be found. Edjas, 26, is studying. And the 21-year-old is unemployed.
But Grizelda says that they are well. They don’t have much money, but are accustomed to not having much space.
She used to work at the Hotel Embassy in San Francisco, which she loved. But she lost her job during the pandemic. “The beginning was the hardest part for me.”
Grizelda says, “we ask God to make everything good like it was before.”