Every day at her job, Cheryl Fields helps low-income families settle into new homes in San Francisco, one of the nation’s wealthiest cities.
Last year, the work became personal.
That’s when the single mother and daughters Aneiyah, 9, and Aneshia, 23, learned they would be evicted from their apartment in Pittsburg. Unable to find another home, they crashed on relatives’ couches for two months.
Eventually the family located an apartment in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, where Fields was born and raised. The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund made it possible for them to move in by covering the security deposit.
Fields, a case manager at Treasure Island Supportive Housing, says the donation was a stroke of luck. She knows rising housing costs have driven thousands of families from the city over the last decade.
Being homeless temporarily “was, for me, a reality, just knowing that there are some people who don’t have the opportunity to have other means,” said Fields, 47, “that this is how some people really live their lives with their families.”
For most of her life, Fields never considered leaving her native city.
She grew up by Candlestick Park, graduated from Balboa High School and studied at City College of San Francisco. After working at the city’s Housing Authority for 11 years, she applied to be a case manager at Treasure Island Supportive Housing.
For eight years, she has interviewed potential residents – some homeless or low-income who often struggle with mental health issues, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS – and tried to match them with services.
Fields said helping people brings her joy. “I just kind of believe that you learn something from everybody,” she said.
But looking on the bright side hasn’t always been easy. She had two sons and two daughters. The children’s father drifted in and out of their lives, leaving Fields to raise them on her $39,000 salary.
Life in the Bayview sometimes felt like too much to handle, she said. A homicide near her home made her worry for her safety and she was able to get an emergency voucher for Section 8, the federal program that assists with housing payments for low-income, elderly and disabled people.
Too many drive-bys
The voucher helped her move into another apartment in the Bayview. But after too many drive-by shootings, she decided to move somewhere completely new in 2005: Pittsburg, the East Bay suburb where her sister lives.
But that sanctuary dissolved last year, when the property managers told Fields they were going to stop renting to Section 8 residents. In August 2012, she and her girls were out.
They put their possessions in storage. Some nights, they stayed with Fields’ mother in the Bayview. Other nights, they drove down to East Palo Alto to stay with Fields’ niece. “I just kind of go with the flow and deal with it, but it was really kind of hard,” Fields recalled. “I was kind of ashamed, just the fact that I didn’t have my own place and that I was having to live with to other people and humble myself and live according to their rules.”
Back to the city
Fields became determined to move back to San Francisco. The two-hour, round-trip drive between Pittsburg and Treasure Island was wearying and car maintenance, bridge tolls and rising gas prices were costly. She also wanted to be closer to her mother, who has heart problems and high blood pressure.
After two months, Fields finally found a landlord willing to accept her Section 8 voucher for a three-bedroom apartment in the Bayview. This time, it was in a spot where she felt safe. But she didn’t have the cash for the $2,400 deposit.
By then, she’d been talking to the Homeless Prenatal Program, a San Francisco nonprofit that referred her to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, which covered the deposit.
‘A good mother’
“She’s happy,” especially since she no longer has to “do all that driving,” case manager Judy Crawford said of Fields, whom she called “funny,” “a good mother” and “honest.”
In October, Fields and her daughters passed the one-year mark at home. Life feels more stable now, thanks in part to Aneshia who helps pay the bills by working as a security guard.
But they’re not celebrating too loudly. Lately, Fields has heard whispers that the landlord might sell the apartment. And that may mean she’d have to move – again.
“I kind of live day to day,” she said, “and enjoy it while I can.”
Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund
Number of families helped: 4,500 individuals and families annually.
Cash distributed to food banks: More than $14.8 million.
Total cash distributed: More than $91 million.
Number of donors: More than 5,000 annually.
The original article can be found here.