Latina Moms Turn a Lens on San Francisco’s Housing Crisis

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While San Francisco’s lack of affordable housing is national news, much less is discussed about the quality of the shelter that’s available, especially for low-income people. So a group of Latina moms in the Mission District took photographs showing it.

The photos tell the story of the public health issues that lurk in the housing options for families who can’t afford the city’s high rents. Those issues range from overcrowding because of having to double up with other families, to mosquitos because of standing water in basement apartments, to having to bathe in a garage with water heated on a stove because the water in the bathroom doesn’t get warm.

And in turn, those conditions lead to poor health outcomes, particularly in mental health and child development.

Titled “An American Dream?” and held at Mission Neighborhood Centers, the exhibit was organized by Community Assessment for Safe & Affordable Housing, a project of the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the Mission Economic Development Association.

One of the eight photographers, Wendy Lara, came to the United States from Honduras by herself and has been in the Bay Area for twelve years. Due to domestic violence, she says, she ended up in a shelter in San Francisco with her two children, a boy and a girl. She’s working but hasn’t been able to find an affordable place to rent.

Through a translator, she says that living in a shelter is “very stressful,” and in particular causes her children “a lot of anxiety.” They’re surrounded by people they don’t know and they have to leave every morning by 7 a.m.

Dr. Ayanna Bennett, the Department of Public Health’s Coordinator for Interdivisional Initiatives, calls it a “deep dive into a small number of people’s lives, that enriches the statistics that health is used to dealing with.” Acting Assistant Director of Environmental Health Karen Cohn adds that even though she’s been working in housing and public health for many years, the collection “deepened [her] awareness.” Conditions are “worse than we knew,” she says.