by Tony Robles
Carved into the skin of San Francisco’s Black community is a desecration, a lack of recognition of the sacred. This desecration is being levied upon Iris Canada, a 99-year-old elder who has lived most of her life on Page Street – an elder who is in the fight of her life. She lived a life on Page Street long before condos, con-men and the poison cloud legacy they leave behind from places like New Hampshire – “home” of her landlord, Peter Owens.
Iris sits in her living room while plans are being hatched, schemed and plotted to separate her from her home in the name of condo conversion. She sits in quiet dignity. Her home is a bouquet of memory. Pictures of family and community adorn the walls – black and white photos of a vivacious and beautiful Iris who worked as a nurse, who was married and very much involved in the rich life of her community.
There is a warmth in her home that cannot be duplicated, cannot be replicated in a lab or reenacted in a short term online application. And the missionaries have descended upon her street, her neighborhood as if ordained –in the name of revitalization and other terms whose true intention is to take our homes, our land and peck away at our bones until no evidence exists that we were here.
But Iris is 99 years old. She didn’t come all this way to give the landlord the satisfaction of evicting a lifetime.
The other tenants want to convert the building into condos. They want Iris to sign a piece of paper which will allow them to do it. Tell me, why should Iris do them any favors? Her so called neighbors, who clapped when she fell ill and was hospitalized.
She was given a life estate, allowing her to stay in her home by landlord Peter Owens – our good friend from New Hampshire, that bastion of diversity – with stipulations including that she be prohibited from having anyone live with her, including a caregiver. Tell me, what 99-year-old does not require some form of in-home care?
Iris, with the wisdom of 99 years, sits in her living room, a place where “living” is the operative word. But the stress that she has been subjected to suggests that “living” is not the goal of the owner and neighbors. An upstairs neighbor yelled out of her window, “She doesn’t live here!” to the supporters holding the vigil for Iris on Day One – to which a friend quickly and appropriately responded: “Iris has lived here longer than you’ve been white.”
And yes, the white cloud has overtaken this block – just as fires have overtaken the Mission. Even the trees appear uncomfortable, unwelcome – perhaps in fear that they too will be uprooted and discarded. And Iris fights. She fights quietly. Community has gathered at her side.
Her landlord has sued her for his attorney fees in a case against her that he lost. In vindictiveness, he sued and won and Iris must pay $164,000 or face eviction. If this is not elder abuse, I do not know what is.
Iris Canada, 99-year-old elder, eviction fighter in San Francisco. Iris Canada, who endured a stroke and still fights on. Iris Canada, a Black woman in a Black neighborhood that is becoming whiter and uglier. What the hell does she owe anybody?
©2016 Tony Robles. Tony is a housing rights advocate and the author of two children’s books and “Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco,” published in 2015, which former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman calls “the generational memory of San Francisco.” Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.