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Homelessness amongst Latino residents has spiked in San Francisco : NPR

Despite measures to protect renters during the pandemic, homelessness has increased among Latino residents in San Francisco.


Homelessness among Latinos is increasing dramatically in San Francisco and elsewhere in California. And this despite the tenant protection introduced during the pandemic. From member station KQED, Vanessa Rancano reports that this community is particularly prone to sky-high rents.

VANESSA RANCAÑO, BYLINE: Every Tuesday as the sun rises, dozens of RV residents who call San Francisco’s Winston Drive home prepare for a weekly ritual to dodge the street sweeper.


RANCAÑO: When the street is cleared, they rumble back to their designated places.

JOSE LUIS DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: With the weekly move done, Jose Luis Diaz stands in front of his RV waiting for his kids to finish getting ready for school. He says there is order here. It’s a community.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: He got the spot with the tree because he was the first out here about a month into the pandemic. Diaz lost his job as sous chef in March 2020. Within weeks he had moved into the RV with his wife and children. They are now 17 and 12 years old. Later, he says, other families came to see the apartment building they lived in in nearby Daly City.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: Now they’re neighbors out here again. They are among the growing ranks of Latinos living on San Francisco’s streets or in RVs, cars, or urban shelters. Homelessness among Latino residents in San Francisco has risen 55% since the pandemic began, despite an overall decline in the city’s homelessness. In neighboring Alameda County, Latino homelessness rose a staggering 73%.

LAURA VALDEZ: So our community is very vulnerable in a lot of ways.

RANCAÑO: Laura Valdez is the executive director of Latino-focused Dolores Street Community Services. She says the types of service industry jobs available to many Latinos have disappeared during the pandemic.

VALDEZ: So if every single person in the household loses their job, that really created a very bad situation.

RANCAÑO: Added to this are language and cultural barriers preventing people from accessing services, a lack of housing in the city’s main Latino district, and many informal housing situations.

VALDEZ: A lot of our parishioners – they don’t have a lease and don’t know their rights.

RANCAÑO: When tenants don’t know their rights, don’t speak English or don’t have legal status, that gives landlords a lot of power. According to Valdez, this contributes to disproportionate formal and informal evictions among Latinos. In front of his RV, Jose Diaz surveys the neighborhood. “Yes, there are a lot of Latinos here,” he says.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: He says: “A lot of people here are immigrants. And some are undocumented, so they can’t get unemployed.” He shrugs and asks, “What else can people do?”

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: It’s not just undocumented Latinos, though. Diaz has a visa that allows him to work legally, but he didn’t apply for assistance because he feared it might hurt his pending permanent residence application.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: Latinos now make up 30% of San Francisco’s homeless population, despite making up just 16% of the city’s total population, according to the city’s most recent census. In response, the city is directing more resources to the historic Latino Mission neighborhood, says Emily Cohen, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

EMILY COHEN: We are strengthening partnerships with organizations that serve Latinx to ensure we have culturally appropriate, culturally competent service providers.

RANCAÑO: Proponents welcome that. But to really address the problem, officials need to address the root cause, the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living in San Francisco. Even before the pandemic, when Diaz and his wife were working, he says they would have $150 left over after rent and bills at the end of the month.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: “No one can handle that,” he says. Everyone who ended up out here on the streets is just trying to survive.

DIAZ: (Speaks Spanish).

RANCAÑO: Diaz now works as a truck driver. He wants to stay in the mobile home, save money and move away because he sees no future here.

For NPR News, I’m Vanessa Rancano in San Francisco.

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