Clarice Patterson answers her door in a bright red embroidered dress and red leggings. The interior of her small living room has been decorated top to bottom for the holidays, as festively as possible. Along the banister and above the window hang stockings for each of her 13 grandchildren, even though they are all adults now.
Patterson has lived in the house in Pacifica for half a century, moving in just before Christmas of 1966. Inside the walls, she has had her share of joy — raising five children and caring for grandchildren and great-grandchildren — and also sorrow. Her husband died there, and her grandson died in the back room after being shot with a stun gun by Pacifica police in 2005.
One of the most difficult chapters of her life began in 2014, when she began receiving phone calls from a law firm that seemed to know everything about her finances and her house payment. It was the start of a mortgage loan scam that almost cost her her home.
“I was devastated, really,” said Patterson, 79, who cares for her disabled 60-year old son, Calvin, who lives with her. “I thought we were going to be homeless.”
The person on the other end of the line was relentlessly kind and helpful.
“A nice Christian,” Patterson said.
He could help her modify her loan, he assured her. For a sum — $2,500 — his law firm would do the modification with the bank. She received paperwork on Wells Fargo letterhead attesting to the transaction. As instructed, she didn’t pay her loan while waiting for the new deal to be completed.
“I don’t know why I went for that,” she said with a sigh.
Patterson never heard from the man again, but one day she came home to find foreclosure papers attached to her front door. Her home was going to be sold by the bank, because of her failure to pay her loan. The law firm, the Wells Fargo paperwork and the nice Christian lawyer were all false.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
With the help of her pastor from New Home Baptist in San Francisco’s Bayview, Patterson found a lawyer. She received assistance from Keep Your Home California, a program that helps homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage.
The process took months, but she was able to stay in her home. During that time, Patterson had a knee replacement, which caused her to incur additional bills. She also fell behind on other bills as she tried to sort out her housing issue.
She finally got a new loan, but the payment was almost twice as much as her old payment. And it is eating up all but $200 of her Social Security income and is taking big bites out of her late husband’s retirement savings.
“I don’t have much to live on, but I get by,” Patterson said.
But she worries that any additional debt will undo her tenuous financial hold. Last summer, she fell behind on her garbage bill. She reached out to the Pacifica Resource Center, which provides safety net services to the city’s residents.
Melissa Moss, a caseworker at the center, applied for help for Patterson from The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund, which provides one-time funds to people facing unexpected crises. And Patterson was in crisis.
“Things were very tight for her,” Moss said.
Season of Sharing helped Patterson pay her garbage bill, which had grown to more than $500. It also paid one month on her mortgage, giving her some financial breathing room.
“I’m so thankful to them for helping me get back on track,” she said.
Patterson moved from Texas to California in 1943 when she was in third grade. She came by train and has a memory of taking the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco at the end of that long journey.
Patterson and her husband, Wade, moved into the Pacifica house when their youngest daughter was just 6 months old. Wade worked for Hills Bros., roasting coffee beans on Folsom Street. But when the plant shut down toward the end of the last century and the operation moved out of state, Wade retired. He and Clarice planned to do things together, but six months later he was dead from lung and liver cancer.
The biggest tragedy of Patterson’s life occurred in 2005. Her grandson Gregory Saulsbury Jr., then 30, was at the house. His grandmother remembers he was having chest pains.
According to a published report in The Chronicle, his niece called 911 but police arrived first, found Gregory unarmed but uncooperative. They handcuffed him and repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun. As his horrified family looked on, he suffered cardiac arrest and died in the small downstairs room decorated with photos of Patterson’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“That took a lot out of me,” said Patterson.
The family sued the city of Pacifica and settled the lawsuit a few years later.
These days, Patterson cares for her son and watches her soap operas on television. She has decorated her home with pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, Jesus and her family members. The threads of her life run through the walls that she is able to still call home.
“I get by,” Patterson said. “I get by.”