Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire! (Yawn.)

Lame city regulation leaves burned-out residents of nine SRO hotels completely SOL

Now at the Isabelle Hotel, on Mission at Seventh Street, Gray's room is cramped with thick, plastic plants, worn Oriental carpets, gold-framed pictures of Egyptian mummies, and hundreds of knickknacks. "It's been a long time since I felt comfortable enough to decorate my room," he says.

But Gray's journey to the Isabelle was a rough one. When fire left residents of the Thor on the streets, the city provided them with two-week vouchers for rooms in other SRO hotels. Fearing homelessness, they formed a union on the spot and began making noise. To get permanent residency at a hotel and be protected from rent increases and eviction, a tenant must live there for more than 30 consecutive days. The Red Cross gave the tenants additional one-week vouchers, but for many, the assistance wasn't enough to establish residency. The city initially promised to extend its two-week vouchers, but didn't; later, 15 residents were placed in permanent housing. Others moved out of state, were hospitalized or incarcerated, or just disappeared. And some, like Gray, shuffled between hotels and shelters, and occasionally found themselves on the street.

Gray lived for a few weeks at the Mission Hotel, then the Hartland and the King. He was at the Hartland just three weeks before it burned and remembers "the stench." "There was paint hanging off the ceiling, furniture and mattresses blocking the stairs. It was crappy," he says.

Jennifer Hale

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RELATED DOCUMENTS

SRO Fire Task Force
Mayor Brown and Supervisor Ammiano press release announcing emergency response plan for single room occupancy hotel fires

San Francisco Department of Health Press Release
City Agencies Plan Coordinated Response to SRO Hotel Fires


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Gray will only speak briefly of the Thor fire. He lived in Room 28 at the back of the second floor; someone knocked on his door and yelled, "Fire!" Gray remembers the flames leaping up as a number of residents unsuccessfully tried to use the back stairs. They all ran to the other side of the building and descended through smoke. "And it was ironic," Gray says, putting a vase he uses as a coffee mug down on his nightstand, "because I lived in the Thor for 17 months, and the fire alarm went off four or five times a week -- for casual reasons, always a false alarm. But that night, the night of the fire, it wasn't operating. You couldn't hear it for nothing." His voice suddenly trails off. "I don't want to remember too much," he says.

Francis Pinnock represents former tenants of the Thor and Hartland hotels who are attempting to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their losses from the fires. Pinnock is clearly aggravated, not just by SRO owners, but by a city bureaucracy that doesn't hold those owners to account. "Nothing in the Thor Hotel worked," Pinnock says. "The fire alarm didn't work, the sprinkler system didn't work, the extinguishers didn't work. If previous measures had worked, the fire -- a tiny fire -- could have been put out by the residents.

"But instead, it displaces everyone."

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