Jose Alfredo and Olga Contreras live in a backyard garage in the Mission district with their two young children. The couple’s teenage daughter sleeps on a bed, the 6-year-old on a couch. The garage is humid, the paint is chipping, the carpets are torn up. Alfredo says the children have asthma.
“I work and work and work,” Alfredo said. “It is never enough to afford a place for my family with dignity.”
According to a group of community leaders in the Mission district, Alfredo’s family falls into a category they call the invisible homeless. They are people whoare not living in the streets, but may be on the brink, and have a difficult time navigating The City’s complex affordable-housing process because they are illegal immigrants or do not speak English. Many of the families share one-room trailers, garages and studios with multiple people.
On Sunday, the San Francisco Organizing Project, a faith-based advocacy group, held a community meeting in the Mission district about the invisible homeless, and more than 100 people attended to share stories about living on the edge of homelessness.
“I’m afraid I may end up living in an abandoned car or garage,” said Maria Guadalupe Garcia, who lives in a trailer in the Mission district after fleeing an abusive relationship in Mexico six months ago. “I want to keep working. I always want to have a smile on my face. I can’t meet those goals.” Garcia said she earns $650 a month from cleaning jobs, but her monthly rent is $600.
Since Jan. 2004, The City has created more than 2,500 new affordable housing units, according to Matt Franklin, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, who attended Sunday’s forum. There are 3,000 more units in the development pipeline, he said.
“This is a very robust program, but it is not enough,” he added.
Franklin said there are 225 beds in shelters that are reserved for families, and they are full each night. There are also 80 families on a waiting list for the shelters, he added.
Community members on Sunday asked for an easier, streamlined application process for affordable-housing units. They want materials in both Spanish and English and do not want immigration status to be a factor in the process. They also pushed for lottery exemptions.
“We recognize and accept the concept of the invisible homeless,” Franklin said. “But until we have enough units to meet the need, I can’t imagine eliminating the lottery.”