by Shannon Shair
At our Free Clothing Program, we are able to run efficiently and effectively with the assistance of our many volunteers. Our volunteers come through corporate groups, high school groups, the community, and also through programs that promote economic self-sufficiency for individuals looking to build vocational skills. One of our new volunteers, Laura Chinas, found St. Anthony’s through Arriba Juntos, a non-profit employment and training organization. Laura was recently featured in an SF Gate article highlighting the difficulties families living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) arrangements face. Here is some more information about Laura and her family’s situation, which is unfortunately not a unique story in San Francisco.
Laura, her husband, their 11 year old daughter, and three sons, ages 9, 8, and 5, as well as their two dogs live in an SRO on Mission Street. Their monthly rent is $1000, which they have difficulty affording. Laura’s husband does not have a permanent job and must find work on a daily basis. Laura currently has applied for employment authorization, which may take several months. One part of the process requires renewal of her California identification card, which has expired; our Social Work Center will be able to provide her with a voucher to get a new identification card free of charge. Through Arriba Juntos, she is able to receive compensation through CalWORKS to work at St. Anthony’s for five hours a week. The program, in addition to providing job training, also has its participants work on their English skills. Laura is slowly but steadily working on her English skills. She has a better grasp on understanding English than speaking it herself.
The Chinas family receives $800 a month from CalWORKS benefits and $620 a month in Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The SRO they reside in does not have a full kitchen so Laura prepares meals on a portable stove. She says that it is too expensive to eat out and she must buy food at discount stores, but that is still not enough for her family. Thankfully, her children were able to take summer school classes this year, which provided free lunches.
Laura’s family lives in a 10 x 10 foot room. All of her children sleep in one bed while she and her husband sleep on the floor. The family has trouble getting adequate rest because their living space is so small. Laura also has trouble sleeping because of constant worries about what the next day will bring. She feels tired during the day due to the many tasks she needs to take care of and the feeling that others will not help her. She often feels depressed and nervous because her family has been on the public housing waitlist for five years with no indication that the wait will end soon. Her husband is desperate to find a new housing arrangement for the family, but they are having a difficult time because of the size of their family. Her daughter in particular longs for some space of her own as she does not even have enough space to do her homework.
When she receives authorization for employment, she will search for a full time job. For the time being, she has been enjoying her time at St. Anthony’s. She was excited to start helping at St. Anthony’s and likes it here. She enjoys working with clothing and the environment that St. Anthony’s fosters.