The past month has seen many young people periodically enter and exit the unremarkable doorway at 3061 16th St. Although it looks like many other buildings in the Mission, this one has a special mission.
In August, a new permanent supportive housing program, Casa Esperanza (House of Hope in English) began to welcome its residents. Many are undocumented, and all are formerly homeless youths between the ages of 18 to 24, and mostly monolingual. Casa Esperanza received $7.4 million in funding from the state’s Homekey program and another $3.6 million from San Francisco’s Proposition C.
After almost a year of acquisition and renovation, the building that was once the Eula Hotel now has a new look, and opens officially today. Its three floors currently offer a total of 20 studios; there are plans to open a total of 25 in the future. Each room, as large as 12 feet by 12 feet or as small as 10 feet by 10 feet, is equipped with its own furniture, microwave, refrigerator, and a private bathroom.
“Everything is amazing,” said Kevin Cervantes, 21, who moved into Casa Esperanza on Sept. 12.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Most of Cervantes’s family, including his mother, still reside in his native Mexico. He lived with his father, who works in restaurants in San Francisco, but two years ago, the relationship with his father soured and, ever since, Cervantes has lived on the streets in the Excelsior. At times, he said, he was able to meet some generous people who offered him food and drink.
“I love it here [at Casa Esperanza]. This program makes me feel supported. I’m gonna take the opportunity, tryna do my best. I really appreciate it,” he said. He hopes to get a bachelor’s degree and open a Mexican restaurant in the future, and realize his dream of becoming a businessman.
“Opening up new housing for the homeless in the city makes me feel this job is worth it,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who was at the opening Thursday morning. “I’ve visited Eula Hotel before; it was disgusting. Now it’s beautiful, dignified living spaces; each room has its own private bathroom, making sure these youth who had a lot of trauma in their life have a great future.”
As of February this year, 1,073 youths were counted as homeless in San Francisco, according to the 2022 Point-In-Time Count, a survey that takes place every two years.
Alongside Cervantes, several other residents were preparing dinner in the shared kitchen. Among them were Bryan Vasquez, 23, from Honduras. Sergio, 21, from Guatemala, slept at Montgomery Street and 24th and Mission BART stations after arriving in the United States five years ago. Neither of them speaks English.
“We hope to help them transition to their own living,” said Rafaela Ramirez, program manager at Casa Esperanza. Current plans are for each resident to live at the residence on 16th Street temporarily, as they find their footing and emerge with skills and connections that will help them to thrive on their own.
According to Ramirez, tenants here will have access to onsite property management from Dolores Community Street Services and other supportive services such as counseling provided by Larkin Street Youth Services.
Residents are encouraged to take English classes and GED tests and to attend college. They are expected to be connected with job opportunities, and the rent is 30 percent of their salary. They are also required to engage in certain community activities in their leisure time, such as the weekly potluck at 3 p.m. on Fridays.
In time, when the paint smell disappears, more facilities will be added to this small community. Plans are in the works for a room with computers on the first floor, and free food in others; flowers will bloom beside the tree in the small garden next to the building. Residents are encouraged to make friends and, potentially, even fall in love.
A total of 11 people have moved in, or are in the process of moving in, so far. Casa Esperanza is currently looking to fill its remaining nine openings. Prospective residents can call 415-673-0911, ext. 456, or visit Larkin Street’s Engagement and Community Center at 134 Golden Gate Ave. for more information.