Our pandemic yr: As San Francisco recovers, hope for the perfect — anticipate the worst

Six years ago, a neighbor popped five crisp $ 20 bills into Ral Lopshire’s hand, dropped them off at the airport, and put them on a plane to San Francisco.

It should be lunch. It was not.

Rather, it was a carefully planned escape organized by Lopshire’s brother to get her out of an abusive relationship, get her out of the state of Arizona, and send her west to San Francisco – the city she always wanted to be in.

“When I got to San Francisco, I felt like I had won it all, even though I was here with $ 100 and had nowhere to go,” she says. “And no food either. But I still felt like I had won something a lot more. ”

She is gone now. Like so many others today, Lopshire is a former Franciscan.

There is a tale that the pandemic will drive the disgusting, wealthy comers out of this city – a better tomorrow that, oddly enough, looks like yesterday.

Maybe. The search for a silver lining in these times is understandable. But Covid is not the fire that cleanses. Many people were burned.

Surely there are some loudmouth VCs decamping for Miami (a city with all the corruption and ineptitude of the San Francisco government, with the added bonuses of insane weather, flying cockroaches, an impending environmental disaster, and sock-less idlers). Surely there are some tobacco company bosses fleeing San Francisco for safety in Dallas (a city with a violent crime rate well above that of San Francisco).

Despite what you may have read or seen on television, California exodus has not increased significantly. But San Francisco has. And it’s certainly not all legitimate tech brothers trading with the agency.

You read trending stories of indignant industry captains leaving these parts out of state when there isn’t a trend to speak of here. However, you haven’t read anything about Lopshire – a 29-year-old artist and musician who lost her job in the services industry in a cosmetics store, lost her apartment, and was economically banned from that town.

Maybe we got involved with this story because it’s so commonplace. It did this every day, long before the pandemic, with retail workers and house cleaners, as well as cooks, servers and drivers. And now with the pandemic imminent, it’s hard to imagine that only the wealthy and well-placed will go – and choose to go. It’s hard to imagine that the only people who leave San Francisco are wealthy and have all options.

And it’s hard to imagine that in the years to come, the happier newcomers who move here won’t have much of an advantage over the less fortunate. San Francisco’s rents have come down, but they’re still the highest in the nation.

A news agency has to decide whose stories to tell.

March 17th marks the one year anniversary of the health order in several counties that changed life in this and so many cities as we know them. Mission Local has handled it from the start and bottom up, and in the days and weeks to come, you’ll be reading the stories learning about the people and companies we introduced to you over the past 12 painful months.

We begin today by not meeting the privileged who are leaving San Francisco because they no longer like it, but rather people who have faced real difficulties – and have fought successfully or not to stay.

We start with stories from real individuals. No false trend stories.

We’ll start with Ral Lopshire.

Ral Lopshire, in a recent photo taken downtown

There are “homeless”, explains Lopshire, and there are “homeless”.

The day after Thanksgiving, during the height of the pandemic, all the money was gone. There were no more cheap motels that no longer slept in the car or slept on the couch of a friend or friendly stranger from Craigslist at night. She was homeless and homeless.

There were sleepless nights sitting on the cold sidewalk next to a building – “and nobody understands how cold it really gets at 3:00 in the morning” – and hungry days when a loaf of bread was fetched from the store, a la Jean Valjean .

Lopshire lost her job in the cosmetics business in March. By May she had no more money. In November she left her apartment on Sunset near McCoppin Square. She claims her roommates had a carefree attitude towards socializing and partying during the pandemic.

In a series of unfortunate events, Lopshire said she moved half of her belongings to a new place where two middle-aged women lived – she planned to use unemployment benefits to pay rent – and then returned at sunset to find new locks Doors. Attempts to get her property back resulted in an ex-roommate’s friend threatening her from the premises with a knife.

This story, she says, unsettled her new roommates. They broke off the resulting life arrangement and Lopshire found herself with half of her property in one former house and half in another on the street.

After sleeping badly in nicer parts of the city – the Castro, Nob Hill – she finally found her way to a homeless shelter for women. It was a poignant moment. She had stayed at this shelter in her early days in San Francisco. When she found shelter and work, she returned here as a volunteer. And now she was back, sleeping on a mat on the floor during a 10-day quarantine.

She spent Christmas at the shelter. It was cold. It was rainy. She wore a mask 24 hours a day and even when she slept; The only time it was taken off was to eat or take a shower.

The staff did what they could to cheer up the few women who stood in the building on Christmas Day: “They did it really well. They made a nice dinner. But I just thought I’d never do that again. ”

That remains to be seen. But after so much went wrong in 2020, the current year has started well. West Side Tenants Association employees set up a Go Fund Me for Lopshire. It didn’t make $ 55,492 like the guy who wanted $ 10 on potato salad, but the $ 670 was a life changer. She found a room in West Oakland for $ 580. She moved in January.

The pros and cons of Lopshire’s story aren’t typical – but a 29-year-old San Franciscan evicted from the city and moving to Oakland is certain: this was common before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and anything but sure after that. Your humble narrator’s parents, aged 29, moved from San Francisco to Oakland in 1976 in search of more affordable housing.

Among the San Franciscans who filed a change of address form with the post office between March and November last year, a large number ended up in Alameda County.

Lopshire misses San Francisco. She still doesn’t know her way around Oakland. But to be honest, there are times when it isn’t that bad to get lost and find something new. She interviewed for Jobs again. She takes part in junior college classes. “Things,” she says, “are falling together.”

But in a different place.

Reina Tello as seen on Twin Peaks

It can take years for gentrification to take its course like the bite of a Komodo dragon.

It may take a while to fully appreciate the impact of the pandemic on San Francisco demographics after entire worker-employing industries either collapsed or became inactive. While pandemic tenant protection is strong in this city, many tenants simply leave when they can’t pay the rent.

So Ernest Hemingway’s description of bankruptcy – “gradually, then suddenly” – also works in relation to gentrification. Shifting often takes time. There’s no shortage of nasty landlords and calloused public housing associations. But much of this simply affects people who leave over the years: people leave for work and family reasons – the conditions that make a recession and pandemic accelerate and worsen. San Francisco is a damn good city, but not everyone wants to make life here the be-all and end-all, especially when work is tight, money is tight and opportunities arise elsewhere.

All of this is happening here. Gradually then suddenly.

Reina Tello has experience with both bankruptcy and gentrification. She has personally filed for bankruptcy six times. It was her father’s wish to die in his own house in Bayview. And for years the family fought the bank to keep him there.

In 2018 Jesse Tello died. Not long after, more than two dozen sheriff MPs showed up to evict the women and children he had left behind.

Tello, her mother, brother, sister, and two elementary school children moved into a room in a cousin’s house. They spread a pair of foam mattress pads on the floor and slept on a pile.

Sometimes 38-year-old Tello didn’t even come home. She worked as a church organizer at Poder and a grocery store, and instead of waking everyone up, she just slept in her car in a Safeway parking lot. In the morning she would start the car, pick up her daughters, take them to school, go to their jobs, and do it all over again.

Why this? Why sacrifice so much to stay in a city that is so hard to stay?

“You know,” says Tello with a laugh, “you’re not the first to ask me that. And my answer has changed over the years. At first I was angry. I have the right to be here. Just like everyone has the right to be here. But now – have you ever been on vacation but homesick? Do you enjoy where you are, but don’t feel at home? San Francisco is that to me. It’s a place where I can be myself. ”

Tello, lower right, is pictured in a March 2000 review article about the Mission High Mock Trial Team

However, San Francisco is a busy place to call home. Even if you don’t have six bankruptcies on your file. Like Tello. Yet, through alchemy, her family landed a rental home in the Visitacion Valley in January. Tello, her mother, brother, and daughters have a home in San Francisco. The rent is $ 3,200 per month. Only Tello and her mother are currently working and the house is eating up most of their money.

Almost as soon as they moved in, the entire family tested positive for Covid. Tello’s truck was confiscated while in isolation. And in the past few days, she has been shocked to find her hair is falling out in clumps – which can be a lingering symptom of the disease, a result of stress, or all of the above. It’s difficult to say.

And yet Tello remains. The statistics for the coming years are not exactly good for hard-working city dwellers like her. But Tello is not a statistic. She is a Franciscan.

And that is the case despite the increasing difficulties. Gradually then suddenly.

“I hope and pray every day that this is just a difficult situation,” she says, talking about her family – but when you think about it, so many families in San Francisco.

“And we will recover from it.”

Stories telling our pandemic year will appear in Mission Local throughout March.


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