Injured Worker, Now 64, Retired on $868 Monthly

n_nguyen_mendez_500x279SAN FRANCISCO — Jose Mendez, 64, has lived at the Hartland Hotel on Geary near Larkin for seven years.

Having lived on the street and in shelters, Mendez is grateful to have a roof over his head. His room is small, but it has a bathroom. No kitchen, but he makes do with a hotel-size refrigerator, toaster oven and microwave. He’s made a home there.

Cutting board perched on a wooden stool, he cuts cilantro, onions, jalapenos and limes to make ceviche — a dish of raw fish cured in citrus. Mendez’s version will have “seven types of seafood,” he says. He bought them all from a Chinese-owned business in the neighborhood.

He enjoys sharing meals, and often cooks for his Bible study group that meets twice weekly in his room.

“You wouldn’t believe it. There may be five to seven people in this room — children sitting on the floor,” he said.

Terrible Accident

Mendez tended the grounds of University of California campuses in San Francisco for 24 years.

He ticks off with pride some of the facilities he helped to maintain: Clarendon, Laguna Honda, Parnassus, Laurel Heights and Mount Zion.

As a groundskeeper, Mendez traveled around the city “clearing-blowing leaves,” painting, sanding and other work.

Mendez had a terrible accident on the job; while carrying a ladder, he tumbled down several flights of stairs. He spent a week in bed unable to move. A doctor told him he could no longer do strenuous work.

“That was my retirement,” Mendez said.

Standing in his small room, Mendez points to a walking cane that hangs by the door, easy to grab on his way out. That fall occurred more than a decade ago, but it has left physical and emotional scars.

Mendez experiences pain, numbness and tremors, especially on the left side of his body, from his hand to his leg. He also sees a therapist twice a week, he says, and often talks about the accident that changed his life.

After the accident, Mendez says, he became depressed and turned to drugs and drinking. He eventually lost his family, and became homeless. He spent the next six years on the street and bouncing from shelter to shelter. He eventually found a home in the Hartland.

“I waited three years to get this room,” he said.

$38 to Spend Each Week

Mendez lives on $868 a month from Supplemental Security Income. The money gets directly deposited and is managed by Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), the nonprofit that operates the Hartland Hotel and other properties under city contracts. Every month, he says, THC automatically deducts about $500 for rent and a bit more for utilities. Mendez gets what’s left: $38 every Thursday.

He typically spends most of it on groceries, with $30 a month going toward co-pays for his medicines and $15 for laundry.

“As soon as I get my check, I go to the store,” he said. “I have a list. I buy this and this and that, and the next day my wallet is empty. But I have supplies for the week. Then I wait till next Thursday for another check.”

Mendez says he stretches the money by volunteering at food pantries at St. Anthony’s and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, where he can sometimes bring food home. He also relies on those places for donations of clothes, bar soap and a toothbrush.

Mendez keeps his small room tidy. A Bible rests on a neatly made bed. Dishes, cups and silverware are stacked in plastic baskets on top of a dresser.

It’s not always easy to maintain cleanliness, though. Two adhesive “bug” strips behind the fridge collect scores of roaches. And, Mendez says, until recently, he had a bedbug problem.

Still, he takes the annoyances in stride. He says he focuses on what’s important.

“I love it [here], because everyone treats me good,” he said. “I don’t want to fight anybody. I’m kind to everybody.”

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