This month, before Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 9, the Coalition took to the streets to honor poor and homeless mothers. We gathered at City Hall alongside dozens of families, and held a rally where mothers and service providers alike advocated for housing for families. Our homeless families made numerous demands on what to include in the City’s budget: over 500 housing new subsidies for families experiencing homelessness, direct cash aid assistance to immigrant families who were excluded from the stimulus packages and an emergency family shelter. These demands were brought by the Homeless Emergency Service Providers Association (HESPA), a group of over 40 homelessness centered nonprofits who come together every June to present a budget for City homeless spending. Participants also had an opportunity to share their stories of experiencing homelessness specifically as mothers.
Many families who live in SRO hotels showed up and spoke of the difficulty and trauma of having to share overcrowded rooms and communal bathrooms and kitchens. With tears in her eyes, a mom spoke about her experience living in her RV with her three kids. Every day she had to wake up early and find public bathrooms for her and her children to get ready for the day. She faced rampant police harassment and her car was eventually towed. Currently, she resides indoors with her family, doubled up with another family in an overcrowded place in the Bayview. While she is grateful for the space, she still carries the fear of returning to homelessness because she knows her situation is not permanent.
One mother from an SRO in Chinatown spoke about the horrors of sharing a communal bathroom with strangers. She said she is scared to let her children go to the bathroom. Instead, she uses a spittoon in her room as a chamber pot so that she doesn’t always have to run with her children to the bathroom or be scared of who they will encounter if they go alone. Through tears, she said she was ashamed of herself for how her children live. But as a mother who experienced homelessness myself, I know that it isn’t her fault. It wasn’t mine. It is hard not to blame yourself when you go through the trauma that is homelessness. The reality, though, is that in our society, families, mothers, single parents and poor people are forced through a rigged system that necessitates our struggle. The system isn’t broken; it is working as it was designed.
When I was homeless and staying at a shelter, my case manager told me I had two options: take a subsidy to move out of the City or leave the shelter. As a Black woman born and raised in the City, I wanted to stay here with my family is here. My community, my daughter’s school, her dentist, my job, our doctor, and all we know is in San Francisco. I’m from the Fillmore, which used to be known as the Harlem of the West. Back when I was growing up, San Francisco had a thriving Black community—but after the redevelopment of the Fillmore in the 60s and the rampant gentrification of the dot-com boom and today, my people now make up less than 3% of this City. So let me say this: They’re not gonna gentrify me up out of my own City.
It’s hard not to blame myself for enduring homelessness with my daughter, but we made it work. After leaving that family shelter, I couch surfed and eventually got supportive housing where my daughter and I live now. Homelessness was hell, and it never really leaves you even once you’re housed. So I continue to fight. I fight for the hundreds of families who are invisible to policy makers and department heads. I fight for the families who live doubled up or in SROs so that they can have dignified, safe shelter to bring up their kids. I fight alongside the Coalition, and alongside other homeless mothers, speaking my truth to power so that no other mother has to experience homelessness like I did.