Her salon shuttered, hairstylist gets help with rent from Season of Sharing

Self-employed hairstylist Linda Voss got help with rent and utilities from the Season of Sharing Fund. Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

Ever since she was a little girl in Minnesota cutting all her dolls’ hair and watching her mom give perms to friends, “the neighbor ladies” and relatives, Linda Voss, 59, has loved doing hair. A professional stylist for almost 40 years, she hasn’t been able to work since mid-March when the Oakland salon where she is self-employed had to close its doors because of shelter-in-place orders.

“I scrambled to apply for every (government aid) you can apply for,” she said.

But when she sought unemployment assistance, she got tripped up by a federal rule that penalizes self-employed people who make a little money on the side as an employee.

To help make ends meet, Voss worked as a part-time employee at a catering company last year. Under the federal rule, that small amount of income, not her real occupation as a stylist, determined her unemployment benefits. She was granted a measly $42 a week. That’s far shy of the minimum $167 the state is giving to other self-employed people and of the maximum $450 a week.

For now, she’s getting the extra $600 a week from the federal Cares Act package, but that expires in late July.

Being single and self-employed in an occupation has a “feast or famine” nature, Voss had little savings. She worried about paying the rent on her small Alameda house. Although deferrals are available, she’d still owe it eventually.

To help Voss through the economic pain of the pandemic, The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund stepped up to cover April rent and utilities for her house. The fund, which provides temporary assistance to people in need, is well known as a holiday season staple in the Bay Area. During the pandemic and accompanying economic crisis, the fund has expedited the release of $2 million to help with housing and other critical issues caused by the coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders.

Season of Sharing operation costs are fully covered by The San Francisco Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund with 100% of donations going directly to help communities in need.

Andrea Wong, an Alameda County Social Services Agency program specialist, who connected Voss to the Season of Sharing program, said the Oakland hairdresser’s situation is common now.

“She represents a lot of people (in service industries) who are stuck between a rock and hard place,” Wong said. “On the one hand, they need to get back to work. On the other hand, if we open up the economy, people in service jobs will be vulnerable.”

Wong said that Voss is “very open, friendly and appreciative.”

Voss echoed how grateful she is for Season of Sharing’s help.

“I don’t know what I would have done” without the assistance, Voss said. “I’m from the Midwest, and I’ve been working since I was 14. It went totally against my grain to accept money from people, but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Voss used her $1,200 stimulus check toward May rent on her house. Meanwhile, she owes monthly rent on the chair she rents at the Oakland salon. She’s deferring that for now but the bill will come due eventually.

Voss is thinking ahead to whenever the salon can reopen, stocking up on extra drapes so each client will have a clean one, for instance. She’s thinking through how social distancing will work. Her station is far away from the other chairs, both she and clients will wear masks, and people who come early for an appointment can wait on a bench outside, she said.

She not only misses the salon, she misses her two grandchildren, ages 9 and 2, who live in Oakland with her older daughter and son-in-law. For Mother’s Day, she went to their house “just to see their little faces, but I had to stand outside,” she said.

She takes “socially distanced” bike rides with her younger daughter, a San Francisco firefighter.

Her elderly parents still live in her childhood home. Her dad will turn 90 in June, and she’d love to fly back to Minnesota to help him celebrate but doesn’t know if that will be possible or safe.

“If I can’t go, I want to have one of those parades where people drive by the house and tell him, ‘Happy birthday,’” she said.

An extrovert, Voss finds not being around people to be the hardest part of stay-at-home orders. “I’m a people person; I pretty much live on the phone now,” she said.

At home, Voss loves puttering around her small yard, pruning her abundant foliage. She proudly rattles off some of her treasures: avocado and lemon trees, Italian cypress, camellias, bougainvillea and hibiscus.

“I’ve been giving them all haircuts,” she joked.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

Read the full article at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Her-salon-shuttered-Oakland-hairstylist-gets-15274273.php


Help your Bay Area neighbors today by donating to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund: https://seasonofsharing.org/donate-now/. All administrative expenses are covered by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the San Francisco Chronicle so 100% of your tax-deductible donation helps Bay Area residents in need.