By Sunday evening, the smoke had cleared, firefighters had left the scene, and Mission Street had reopened to bus traffic following the devastating five-alarm blaze on Saturday that left dozens of Bernal neighbors displaced from their homes. The current damage report: 56 people displaced. No significant injuries. Six buildings destroyed or damaged. Nine small businesses impacted.
While there have been plenty of conspiracy theories floating around, investigators have not yet identified the cause of the blaze. Century-old wood buildings and shoddy electrical systems are a likely culprit. SFGate reports that the fire may have started at the SRO Graywood Hotel, where residents first reported seeing smoke and flame:
Greywood residents have filed almost 50 complaints over the past two decades, resulting in numerous citations, according to San Francisco Department of Building Inspection records.
In the past year, inspectors found that a heating system at the hotel was installed without a permit and that possible wastewater was flooding into units. Residents also often complained about circuit breakers that would trip several times a day, cutting off some power to the buildings.
While the investigation continues, the struggle is just beginning for those displaced by the fire. The immediate drama of the fire subsides quickly, but our displaced neighbors now face weeks of effort to rebuild their lives and establish permanent housing.
In the short term, about 25 people displaced by the fire have taken shelter at the Red Cross disaster center set up at the Salvation Army facility on Valencia between 22nd and 23rd. Bernalwood visited the facility on Sunday, where we were told the shelter will be only open for about a week. And after that?
That’s the important thing to remember in the wake of a crisis like this: The effort to assist those impacted by the fire is a marathon, not a sprint. So with that in mind, here’s what’s happening, and how you can help:
There are two phases to the effort to find new housing for those who lost their homes in the fire. Phase One is about finding stable transitional housing for a few weeks while fire victims begin replacing lost personal effects and rebuilding their lives. Phase Two is about finding a more permanent place to live at a price former tenants can afford.
If you have space available on a short term basis that you’d be willing to open up to a fire victim, or if you’re an Airbnb-style host with a bed you sometimes make available, this is your moment to shine. Please contact Hilary Ronen from Supervisor Campos’s office at 415-554-7739 if you have space available for a few days or weeks.
Longer term, San Francisco’s Good Samaritan Tenancy Program allows people to rent space to tenants for up to 2 years, without having to comply with eviction protection laws at the end of the tenancy. If you have a unit that you’d like to make available under the program, contact the City’s Human Services Agency or Supervisor Campos’s office.
Donations of Replacement Goods
Many victims of the blaze lost most all of their possessions on Saturday. Yet as tempting as it is to donate extra clothing and housewares to the cause, that’s not the most effective way to provide assistance. Aid agencies and displaced people can quickly be inundated with piles of redundant or non-essential stuff (and indeed, that already happened this weekend).
Past experience suggests that one of the most useful ways to help is by donating gift cards from Walgreens, Safeway, and Target, so victims can replace lost items on an as-needed basis. (HINT: You can buy gift cards for a variety of merchants at our Taoist Safeway, near the fire site.) If you’d like to donate gift cards, please drop them off this week with the San Francisco Red Cross at the disaster relief center at at 1156 Valencia Street.
This is a big deal, because when all is said and done, money can solve a lot of the hardships and expenses associated with dislocation.
But again: Remember that the relief effort is a marathon, not a sprint, so focus on maximizing your impact. It may take a few days to organize a broad-based fund that will make every dollar you contribute goes as far as it can — say, through matching contributions from local corporations, or the creation of an efficient and equitable distribution mechanism to allocate donations. As generous as Bernal neighbors are, it’s also true that people’s capacity to give is limited, so think about phasing your donations over time so you’ll also have something to give in the weeks ahead.
Short-term, Edwin Lindo has organized a fund that has already raised more than $20,000. The current goal is $25,000, and (happily) that target is well within reach. This is a great place to start.
Longer-term, there will be additional fundraising drives like the one that generated $180,000 for the victims of the 2015 fire at 22nd and Mission. Efforts to organize similar large-scale fundraising campaigns are just getting underway, so keep your wallets and checkbooks warm for future use.
Bernalwood will keep you posted on additional ways you can help.
PHOTO: Fire scene, Sunday morning, 10 am, by Telstar Logistics