Temo Elvira sank into the couch in the tidy living room in his new three-bedroom apartment in San Francisco’s Bayview district. He’d worked a full eight-hour shift stocking cutlery, washing dishes and organizing schedules at the Westfield San Francisco Centre food court, where he runs the dish room. And that was one of his easy days.
Outside, in the cold, dark evening, beyond the heavy gate, hustlers leered at passers-by under a dim streetlight.
But inside, Elvira was content. Even proud.
Two years ago he was struggling to make ends meet and facing homelessness. Then Elvira, 46, got help from The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund and was featured in a Christmas Day story about fund recipients.
Now, he holds down two jobs and plans to send his 17-year-old daughter, Itzel, to college when she graduates from high school in June.
In 2010, the family was out of options when the Homeless Prenatal Program contributed a down payment for a tiny Tenderloin apartment and The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund furnished the tiny studio with a bed, dresser and other essentials.
Little money left over
Elvira, stuck with a bad credit rating from a messy divorce, had trouble getting a lease. Almost 60 percent of his income from a dishwashing job went for rent, leaving little for a security deposit or furnishings. Most of the rest went toward Itzel’s high school education. The scraps went into an occasional rented movie or small treat.
Now, thanks to the earlier support from the two charities and countless family and friends, Elvira and Itzel have moved out of the cramped apartment and share a cozy, clean three-bedroom apartment with Elvira’s brother, who helps pay the rent.
Elvira paid all but $500 of the $2,000 security deposit on the new home himself. He spends all of his free time with his daughter, who plans to attend a state university eventually.
Itzel, who used to sleep in a closet, now has her own bedroom. The family can gather around a big-screen TV to watch their favorite movies or TV shows, like “Law & Order” and “NCIS.”
Elvira, whose full first name is Cuauhtémoc, said he felt like a “loser” when he asked for help in 2010. He told anyone who asked that he didn’t want charity. He wanted a job.
“Everyone who read the (2010) article, they kept coming up to me and asking me, ‘What can I do to help? How can I help you, Temo?’ ” Elvira said in earnest, broken English. “I told them, ‘Thank you. The best way to help me is to give me a job. If you give me anything (money), I will just spend it.’
“I try to have a better job,” Elvira added after a moment of thought.
Gets a 2nd job
Hearing this, an employee at Bloomingdale’s recognized Elvira from the San Francisco Centre’s food court and started an effort to get him a second job in the store’s recovery department. Most days, Elvira leaves his 7 a.m.-to-3 p.m. job in the mall’s dish room and walks to Bloomingdale’s, where he spends 22 hours a week folding cashmere sweaters.
“He gets up before I do, and some days he gets home after I go to bed,” Itzel said of her dad’s 62-hour workweek. Elvira, who sometimes struggles to hear, looked down at his hands when his daughter spoke. Itzel beamed.
“I’m amazed because he works at two jobs and he never has a day free,” she said.
Itzel will graduate from Woodside International School, a private high school in the Sunset District, this June. She plans to attend junior college and then enroll in a university, either San Francisco or Sonoma State, and eventually become a physician.
Elvira doesn’t like to talk about what might have happened if the Season of Sharing Fund or the Prenatal Program hadn’t stepped in to help him and Itzel find a place to live. But he knows he couldn’t have done it without help.