VENDOR PROFILE: Vinola Stallings

On Shelters and Working

How long have you been a Street Sheet vendor?

I couldn’t tell you exactly, but I just started around December. It’s been a bit hard because people weren’t quite as excited about poetry, it’s kinda tricky sometimes if you don’t find people who are artistic. Other than that it’s just hit or miss—the probability of people stopping—it’s just a lot of work. 

What has your connection to homelessness in San Francisco been? 

I was in the shelter system, I’ve stayed at almost all the shelters off and on throughout the years. I’m still not housed, because I don’t have a regular check. I was doing cleaning work in San Rafael for a while and working with the Downtown Streets Team (DST) there, but I’m going to do a transfer [to San Francisco] so I can work here and keep all my stuff together. You don’t know when it’ll start walking away, you know? Like the identifications and stuff like that. I had a situation at the women’s drop-in center where someone had stolen my ID, but one of the staff found it and gave it back to me. That was a miracle right there.

Have you been homeless for a long time?

Yes. Since 2004. I was living in Alameda County when I lost my housing, and I went to stay with my father in Clearlake, but it didn’t work out so I came back and entered the shelter system. I didn’t want to get HUD or Section 8, and I wasn’t diagnosed with any health problems or anything like that so I couldn’t get on disability. At that time I wasn’t working so I went to DST in Berkeley because I needed some job reference. So I volunteered and then transferred to San Rafael, and now I plan to transfer again to San Francisco. I haven’t been working for a minute cuz I’m trying to find out where I’m gonna stay. I used to ride the bus so I didn’t have to stay in the shelter for a while, but I’m trying to go into the shelter now. So I took a break from DST, but I’m going back to work now. I’m going to take a CPR/first aid class to renew my certification, because I took it out in Oakland a long time ago but never renewed it. I got it because I wanted to start a day care, but my apartment wasn’t up to code so I couldn’t get approved to do it. And I didnt have any money to move into something better at the time. So I’m going to get that certification again, and hope to find some way to fund that. 

You mentioned having been to a lot of the shelters. Have you ever had trouble accessing shelter?

In Alameda County, it was hard for me to get into shelter because it was closed, but I haven’t been in shelter in a while. I became homeless because of my job situation. I wasn’t able to work as a caregiver anymore. My mother paid for my apartment in Oakland for two years, but then she couldn’t pay my rent any more, and I had hoped to have that day care there, so that squashed everything. So she wasn’t working any more because of her arthritis, so she married and I was stuck and had to leave to go to a shelter. I wasn’t able to stay with family, because our family isn’t really close like that. So I had to go to the shelter. 

What was the shelter like?

A lot of stuff that goes on in the streets goes on in the shelter. We had robberies, some people were sex workers or whatever, and there were a lot of bullies in there, too. It was kinda hard for me, cuz the staff is supposed to diffuse it, but sometimes they couldn’t, and sometimes it took them a long time to notice because the bullying and stuff wasn’t always overt, it was sneaky. It was hard because I had to realize that I didn’t have my own apartment, so when stuff happened I couldn’t leave, I just had to deal with whatever was going on. I just couldn’t handle it, so I went to another shelter but that wasn’t very good, either. This is the world, and if you’re stuck in a bureaucracy, and they can’t stop everything, it’s hard to adjust when you come from having your own apartment and then getting in that kind of situation. So you try to deal with this as much as you can, and if you can’t handle it you just have to try moving out, go to someplace else where there aren’t so many problems. The bigger shelters are often harder to survive in, the smaller shelters are sometimes a little better. But not always. 

If you were Mayor of San Francisco what would you do to end homelessness tomorrow?

Well, you can’t end homelessness if there isn’t housing for people. Building more shelter out here would help, but to tell you the truth I don’t know the politics of why people are still being left in encampments instead of being placed in shelter or housing, or if people are struggling with addiction then they should probably build more places for folks to get support recovering from drug and alcohol problems. And more shelters. That’s what it sounds like to me, but I don’t really know politically what is going on, and what rights there are for people who are homeless. 

Anything you want to add?

Well since my estrangement, I want to reunite with my daughter and grandchildren, and I hope we can live together. My granddaughter lives with her dad in Oakland, so I’m hoping I will be able to see her. She graduated high school, and I’m hoping we can reunite, and I want her to prosper and have a job and be independent and do what she wants to do in life. I hope she can have her own apartment or house or whatever. And I know she’s talking about wanting to go to school, so maybe she could live on campus. Also my niece, I’m hoping she goes back to school, cuz she didn’t graduate as far as I know. And I want to make sure she gets a job and can do whatever she wants to do. And my daughter got her associate degree and went to UC Berkeley, and she did some essays, and I’m the person she said inspired her.