The Cruz family didn’t look like they could be displaced in a few hours. At first glance, the family seemed to be going on a trip.
In a parking lot of San Francisco Central Hotel, José Cruz and his 13-year-old son, Rodrigo, held the handles of their bulging suitcases and smiled. Margarita stood behind her five-year-old twin daughters, who, in backpacks, looked less thrilled — one rubbed her eyes and scowled, the other quietly played with a scooter. Their 9-year-old, Alisson, whose 10th birthday is tomorrow, sat on the floor, next to totes and a big pink plastic bag holding the family’s belongings.
On Thursday, the nonprofit organization Faith in Action held a press conference announcing that three immigrant households may lose their temporary housing in a matter of days: The Durans on Saturday. A woman from Venezuela, Nayibicisnay Flores, on Monday. The Cruz family: Today, by 11 a.m. They were packed and ready to go.
These are just a few immigrant families across the city facing similar circumstances, advocates said, and a lack of English makes finding shelter harder. “There is too much pain,” Brenda Cordoba, the president of the board of Faith in Action, said in Spanish. “We cannot be indifferent to what’s happening to these families.”
Limited shelter availability and a lack of resources has made it harder for immigrant families to find refuge, they said. Only after the highly publicized press conference, which seemed to help the Cruzes, the city said a spot at the Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 family homeless shelter had opened up. It’s unclear how long they’ll stay there, or what awaits the other households.
The Cruz family first moved to San Francisco in August to flee gang violence in El Salvador. The six of them spent their first week in the city on the street — but, later, they lucked out.
At a Catholic church, the Cruz family met Faith in Action members, who helped secure the family a two-week emergency hotel voucher that was extended for one week. By Thursday, that voucher had expired.
Later they’d get good news: Calls to the city had yielded a shelter, they learned in the afternoon.
That is not the case for everyone, however. About 2,400 of the district’s 55,537 students, or 4.3 percent, are considered to be experiencing homelessness, per a 2023 school district report. In 2022, the Latinx population had a 55 percent jump in homelessness, despite a decrease in city homelessness overall.
Added to the figure were the Durans, who would be out of a home by Monday. The Durans trekked from Venezuela, across six countries and the Colombian jungle, to the United States, hoping for improved financial opportunities and quality of life, Jose Duran said today in Spanish. Someone he met in Los Angeles had loaned them money to rent a place at a hotel for a few weeks, but that money ran out.
Though Duran wants to work and rent a cheap place, his lack of documentation and unstable living situation has made that difficult.
Perhaps the situation has been most turbulent for the children, most of whom were timid and bewildered during today’s upheaval.
Instead of studying at school that morning, they were surrounded by adults who murmured condolences and asked their parents, over and over, how it would feel to be homeless.
It was a reminder that housing instability can be greatly “traumatizing” for kids, said Allan Pleaner, a psychotherapist and conference attendee.
Duran gestured at his youngest daughter, a 1-and-half-year-old infant who, during the conference, clung to her parents or wobbled in slippers reminiscent of “Paw Patrol.” Two of his children are 15 and 16, and Mission High School students. It has been especially difficult on his other daughter, a 6-year-old Sanchez Elementary School student who, on Thursday, shyly looked on while dressed in Barbie-pink pants.
“Without something stable, she feels unsafe, insecure,” Duran said.
And at Everett Middle School in the Mission, where teen Rodrigo Cruz is an eighth-grader, housing disruption is a common occurrence.“It’s the same story, different family,” said Bridget Early, a 16-year social worker at the mostly Latinx school. “It’s not okay.”
Several others associated with Everett attended on Thursday to support the family. Rodrigo, dressed in a green Minecraft hoodie, grinned affectionately when his school counselor, Steve, said he had gotten to know the teen as “always smiling” and a shining light. “And it breaks my heart to see that this is the situation that your lovely family is in right now,” Steve said before the shelter news.
Several speakers on Thursday called for better policies in San Francisco to protect children and immigrant families. Some called upon private companies or richer individuals to donate or assist, underscoring wide inequality in San Francisco; a former Francisco Middle School teacher shared that she had let three immigrant families stay in her home.
Meanwhile, nonprofits, including Faith in Action, have been calling the city to urge for emergency resources, and Cruz has been connecting with others to help find them shelter.
Cruz was thankful. “People here are very nice,” he said in Spanish, still smiling.
Advocates in the parking lot, however, choked on words and wiped away tears as the children played. Faith in Action member Maria Martinez said, “I don’t understand how, [in] a city as rich as this, you’re able to have families in this situation.”