by Louise Andersen
Single-room occupancy hotels are one of the last remaining affordable housing options for San Francisco’s most vulnerable and low-income residents. In the SROs live families with children, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, the elderly, and individuals with special needs or disabilities, as well as a large number of people working hard but unable to afford decent housing.
The SRO Families United Collaborative—which is an organization placed in four different neighborhoods in San Francisco: Chinatown, Tenderloin, Mission and South of Market—has been working on a report since November 2014, collecting information about the families living in SRO hotels. The report attempts to draw attention to the hardships the tenants face, to examine their lives, to describe their barriers, and most importantly to pull together recommendations to solve the crisis.
The SRO report release took place on Wednesday, October 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Broadway/Sansome, which is one of the buildings in the city with affordable housing for low-income families. Under the Surplus Property Ordinance, it’s one of only two buildings, so far, to have been set aside as housing for homeless people. This has been a new and better solution for housing for a number of former SRO tenants.
The conference-room was well packed around 11 when the event started. SRO families with their kids, social workers, politicians, a great bunch of media reporters, and people who were just curious or interested in the living conditions of the SRO tenants, were the participants of the event on that sunny October Thursday. Around 80 people packed the room.
The report was presented by some of the hard-working peer organizers from SRO Families United Collaborative. The presentation started out with a short presentation by Jadma Noronha, followed by a short film screening. The short film “Home is a Hotel” by Todd Sills and Kevin Duncan Wong was a beautiful black and white movie where the viewer enters the world of residential hotels where families live in eight by ten foot rooms and share a bathroom and kitchen with 15 others. It is the perfect start to the event to provide a clear picture of the subject at hand: Life in a single-room occupancy hotel—the last resort in a quickly gentrifying city.
There was translation equipment available to allow anyone to participate and understand the presentation. The presentation was in English, but there were both Chinese- and Spanish-speakers attending.
The two-hour presentation contained facts and statistics about the living conditions in SROs, and touching and emotional speeches about how the life in SROs effects children´s personal development badly, and how policy-makers ignore the problem of the sky-high rent and constantly growing number of homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. Three SRO tenants contributed to the presentation, with their own narrations of everyday life in the SROs. They talked about the health problems in the SROs, fear of landlords, fear of evictions, and having to share kitchens and bathrooms with the other SRO tenants.
Free coffee donated by Starbucks arrived in the middle of the presentation, and it made a little disruption in the audience crowd—and some children needed attention and started to cry or babble. But despite the interruptions, the presentation continued, and was in the end concluded with a powerful speech from Jennifer Friedenbach from the Coalition on Homelessness.
When the presentation was over, there was time for questions and answers. Delicious Chinese food—also generously donated—was served to all the participants in the report release. People ate, chatted, debated, and slowly the room emptied out.
All in all, it was a successful and informative day.
The report can be read on-line at www.cohsf.org/SROFamilyCensus. The SRO Families United Collaborative is comprised of the Chinatown Community Development Center, the Chinese Progressive Association, the South of Market Community Action Network, the Coalition on Homelessness, and Dolores Street Community Services.