Amid immigration uncertainty and COVID-19, SF family receives help from Season of Sharing


Around the same time last year, Maryuri Aceituno wasn’t sure her family of four would be able to keep their eight-year San Francisco home.

The pandemic – and the havoc it has wreaked on her schedule of cleaning buildings around the Bay Area – has come at a pivotal time for the 41-year-old mother. After immigrating from Honduras 15 years earlier, she was finally on the verge of obtaining residency in the United States.

But until the papers arrived, her handyman husband was still not entitled to unemployment. It just got harder to pay rent on their two bedroom Visitacion Valley. Aceituno called to ask about food stamps for her 3 and 8-year-old children, but withdrew over concerns about the impact it could have on the immigration process.

“In the end, I got scared,” Aceituno said in Spanish. “I didn’t mean to ruin this.”

In a state where almost 1 in 10 workers is an undocumented immigrant and thousands more depend on temporary work visas, California lawyers and social workers say Aceituno’s predicament has become commonplace in the many months since the coronavirus took hold .

California is among the states that offered limited one-time payments of $ 500 to $ 1,000 to undocumented workers during the pandemic. Beyond that, immigrant families like Aceituno’s are forced to navigate a maze of other government programs to determine what they might qualify for – like health care, food aid or relief. COVID-19 rent – or turn to nonprofits and private funds to help them mount the bills.

“We got calls every day from undocumented workers saying to themselves, ‘I lost my job; what can I do ?’ Said Kim Ouilette, wage protection lawyer in San Francisco for advocacy group Legal Aid at Work. “They have no legal recourse. Many people have lost their homes or have gone into debt.

Aceituno found herself in an equally dire situation earlier this year when she suffered a work-related accident that further derailed her family’s income and her ability to pay rent. They stayed housed with the help of a local social worker and four months of rent assistance from The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing fund.

It was a good surprise after the long journey from Honduras to the fragile family stability of the Bay Area.

“My country is a difficult country,” Aceituno said. “Coming here, finding people who help each other like that, for me is something new.

When she left the capital Tegucigalpa in 2005 to join her brother in San Francisco, Aceituno’s home country saw the political violence of the last century and the domination of foreign agricultural interests give way to a new era: one marked by economic instability, devastating tropical storms and some of the highest murder rates in the world.

Donations to the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund help thousands of people in the Bay Area throughout the year. Assistance takes the form of grants paid directly to the service provider, such as a landlord. Individuals do not receive direct grants. For more information visit

She didn’t expect a new start to be easy, but she had a young daughter and her mother in Honduras to care for. Aceituno was thrilled to find that when the cleaning business was stable, her family had the time and money to indulge in California luxuries like camping. Her now 8-year-old son even learned to ride a mini-motorcycle.

The idea of ​​turning to the government or other outsiders for help in his adopted country didn’t seem like an option: “Never,” Aceituno said. “Never never never.”

A strong sense of empowerment is something Victor Ramos often saw among immigrant clients in two decades as a social worker at St. Anthony’s Foundation in San Francisco.

But that was before the pandemic turned everything upside down.

“The need has increased in terms of food, in terms of rent,” said Ramos, who put Aceituno’s family in touch with Season of Sharing. “Immigrants may not have needed benefits in the past if they worked, but the pandemic has been really tough on them. “

One count, by researchers at UC Merced, found this about 688,000 Californian workers who do not have US citizenship lost their jobs in the first months of the pandemic. Nearly one in three non-citizen workers has lost her job, the researchers estimated.

Aceituno’s long list of regular cleaning sites and her husband’s routine of looking for work outside of home improvement stores suddenly came to a halt when public health lockdowns began last spring. Things got scarier last summer, when her husband suddenly developed a strong cough and started to feel pain in his chest, but the family survived their battle with COVID-19.

Over the months, Aceituno returned to jobs like cleaning a senior housing complex, where double masks were needed. But she suffered another setback in January, when she injured her back in an accident at work.

Aceituno received limited disability benefits. But that wasn’t enough to pay the family’s monthly rent of $ 2,600.

As anxiety mounted, a friend spoke to Aceituno about the St. Anthony Foundation, who identified her as a candidate for Season of Sharing Rent Assistance. The non-profit organization works to prevent homelessness and hunger in the Bay Area. All donations to the fund go directly to helping those in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

In about three weeks, Aceituno said, his family learned that the fund would cover four months of rent.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Aceituno said. “I didn’t believe these things existed.”

Aceituno calls the money “a blessing” that allowed her family to stay in their home while they were in physical therapy. The number of buildings she works in has grown as employers shift the tasks of cleaning up old office-to-office waste pickups to disinfecting common areas like lobbies. Her husband is also finding more odd jobs, although monthly income is still difficult to predict.

In the meantime, advocates like Legal Aid at Work’s Ouillette are pushing California lawmakers to do more to compensate workers still recovering from the pandemic and to follow other socially progressive states. In New York, lawmakers decided in April to create a $ 2.1 billion fund Excluded workers’ funds which will pay up to $ 15,600 to undocumented workers who have lost income.

For his part, Aceituno says it would be “a sin” to complain about any lingering financial stress. Her back still hurts some days, but her family is otherwise healthy and she is hoping the worst is behind them.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “But we must continue. “

Lauren Hepler is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @LAHepler


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