What did I know about people whose lives are lived on the edge of homelessness?
So I asked the staff at Homeless Prenatal to introduce me to a few of the families that they served. I met with nine women who agreed to being interviewed and photographed in their homes. Each one opened their door and said, “I’d do anything for HPP because they were there for me when I needed them most. Let’s talk.”
And talk we did. Now because of their stories I know a bit more about the trials and aspirations of families who live cramped into neatly organized apartments with often three or more to a bed. I have been to an elegant Victorian, the former home of Shirley Temple, now a shelter for new mothers. And just last month I went to a housewarming for Starr and her daughter, Luna, who had been living in their car for nine months.
From these visits I learned how these women’s struggles are lessened by the work of the staff at HPP. And now I too will say I would do anything for HPP because they opened the door for me. Special thanks to Jen Greco, Micah Bennett, Jennifer Board, Hilary Garman, and Jessica Eve Rattner. All these women helped to make this project happen.
Starr with her daughter
Golden Gate Park
Margaret with her four daughters
You heard the story about the 18 wheeler? It was in the news. That was us. We were the ones who were crossing the crosswalk right when the truck hit the light pole that then fell into the street. One daughter suffered brain damage and another had an injury to her spine and got stitches on her leg. I was talking on the cell phone to my husband when it happened. He was in Honduras. He heard all the screaming and crying and sirens. I dropped the phone and did not have a chance to call him back so he panicked and headed up here, crossing the border illegally. He got caught and sent back. Now he can’t return for five years. We all miss him so much. We’ve had a lot of trauma in our lives, my youngest was born premature and has cerebral palsy, she has braces for her legs.
I started out in Texas, but I spent a lot of time here in San Francisco; I went to school at Starr King, then Everett and Mission High. I got pregnant the first time when I was 16 and then again at 20. When I was getting divorced I needed to get to a safe house so I ended up in Stockton. We were waiting on the list for ten years for Section 8 housing. When we moved into this place it was Valentine’s Day. It was the best present ever!
Hope with her two daughters
Elsa with her husband and sons
It is a challenge just to survive. I come from a very dysfunctional family, so just surviving takes a lot of energy. I have been working ever since I came here from Mexico. Now that I have two sons I really want to finish high school so that I can help to prepare my sons for their own life. I am 39, but it is not too late!
We’ve been living here for twenty-two years. The rent goes up every year, there is no rent control. My mother lives with us and we have a roommate so there are six of us in two bedrooms. I feel the Mission is less Latino now, it feels less familiar. But it also feels a lot safer than eight or ten years ago. You can walk around and not hear gun shots as much now.
For me home is family – family is home.
Librada with her five children
I would tell anyone who is thinking of coming north that they should think about it carefully. The trip has become much more dangerous since I came up.
Now that I am here I want to teach my children how to get ahead in life. I want them to be able to study and get a better economical situation than I have. We live in a two bedroom apartment. My cousin lives with us; there will be nine of us when the baby is born.
The home is the place my children can find good advice, love, trust and maximum security from us, their parents. It’s a place where my kids learn on a daily basis how to value their family. We need to support each other and to be sure to help other people when they need it. That keeps harmony all around us.
Sarah with her son
Yale Hotel, the Tenderloin
Things weren’t going well in Baltimore. I had a long talk with a friend and he suggested that I come to San Francisco. I had saved up some money before I left. I tried to rent a place but I just could not find anywhere that would rent to someone who was six months pregnant. My money ran out. I had heard about Haight Street so I went over there and connected with some people who took care of me.
I lived in the park with them for a while; they watched out for me. I was not treated badly; nobody robbed me. I had done a lot of wilderness hiking so I was used to sleeping outside. I worked on farms back east. I would love to homestead in a cabin in the woods with a garden and a spring, with chickens and goats. That would be my ideal home.
It was really hectic up until about two weeks before I gave birth, I didn’t know where I was going to be. It finally all came together. I found a great birthing center in Santa Rosa where you can do a water birth. I found someone with a car to drive me up there. I was only in labor for about 4.5 hours, then he just came flying out!
We are living in a hotel now, the Yale, in the Tenderloin. It is manageable, you just have to show respect to the people who are on the street. I am waiting for a room in a shelter, I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Maybe I can move to Oregon where I have some friends who are working as janitors in a hospital. They said they might be able to help me to find work up there. That is my plan.
Shawanna and her son
For me home is a chance to be the mother I want to be. I have four other children, they all live with my sister. I have been living on the streets for seven years, since I was 21. I’ve been staying here and there. I was sleeping under the freeway by Duboce at Mission till I was six months pregnant. There is a 24 hour drop-in center near there but you have to sleep in a chair. My legs got swollen, I wanted to lie down, so I took blankets and went outside.
HPP came in the nick of time. They have been tremendously helpful. They are on my side, nothing negative there, all positive. They get the job done in a hurry. I am very grateful. They found this place for me to stay. I can stay here for up to a year. Maybe then I can finally get a place where I can bring all my family together.
Dania and her three daughters
We’re living here in a basement apartment, just a bedroom and a living room and a kitchen. There will be six of us soon. But now the landlord has told us we have to move out. I am really nervous about this, we’ve been looking everywhere without any luck. My husband does building maintenance work, just cleaning and the like, so money is tight.
But I am very happy that we are all together. When I came here in 2007 I had to leave my two older daughters behind. They were just four and seven years old when I left them. It took seven years to save up enough money to send for them.
My greatest wish is to own my own home so my children can be safe and not get run out by yet another landlord.
Jeanette and Anthony with their son
Jeanette: Two years ago we were both homeless drug addicts. We used heroin, things were not going well, I was arrested. They tested me for drugs and found out I was pregnant. That made me change overnight.
Anthony: She brought me along. I did not get it at first, she really helped me. She’s been clean two years. I got sober for nine months but a couple of months before he was born, I fell off. He was three months when I got into Walden House. I stayed there 90 days. I’ve been clean about a year. I go to AA regularly.
Jeanette: We ate at Carl’s Junior three meals a day, if we ate three meals. My whole pregnancy we paid $1300 a month to live in a hotel room at the Yale; the waiting list for family shelters was more than 11 months. We’ve lived in every hotel in the Tenderloin now, some of the worst of the worst. It is huge not to be in the Tenderloin. That’s why Anthony fell off, he went to work outside the Tenderloin, painting houses, but he’d have a bad day and he’d fall back in to the drugs on the way home, it’s right out there everywhere.
Anthony: Now I am in trade school. Because I was selected top of my class in journeyman carpentry, I’ll get direct entry into the carpenter’s union. I am the first one there in the morning and the last to leave. I made them know I am serious.
Jeanette: Anthony had a hard life growing up. He dropped out of school in ninth grade. Now he’s getting all A’s, top of the class. We’re both doing really well. I am taking classes at San Francisco City College and just got into SF State for the fall. I want to get my BA. My parents are amazing, they are our number one support. I put them through hell. I don’t think they thought I would ever come around. When our son was born they drove right out from the east coast as soon as they got the news. I’ve come a long way, but I grew up in a family that always supported me. My parents used to write letters to me every week, even when they didn’t know where I was.
Janet Delaney is a fine art photographer who focuses her attention on the urbanscape. Most recently she has been documenting the changes taking place in SoMa district of San Francisco.
Delaney has received three National Endowment for the Arts Grants. Her photographs are in collections such as the San Francisco Museum of Art, the de Young Museum and the Pilara Foundation. Her work has been shown both nationally and internationally. In late 2013 She published South of Market with Mack of London. This work is now exhibited in a one-person show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, January to July of 2015.
For the past fifteen years she has held the position of adjunct lecturer in Visual Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and this year she is on the graduate faculty for the San Francisco Art Institute.