Fire victims Bobby and Jose Montoya lost nearly everything in the June 18 Mission fire and finally have a new place to live, but still need furniture. If you’d like to help, email JoseMontaya74@gmail.com.
Bobby and Jose Montoya were in the room they shared at the Greywood Hotel when the fire broke out on the edge of San Francisco’s Mission District on the afternoon of June 18, 2016.
The brothers walked into the hallway of the single-room-occupancy hotel and saw black smoke pouring from an old heater vent.
Thinking he could identify the fire source, Bobby, 64, headed toward the kitchen and walked into a massive cloud of suffocating smoke.
“I couldn’t see my hand about two feet away,” he said.
Bobby immediately ran back upstairs, as fast as his weak knees could take him, and he and two other men banged on doors shouting “Fire! Get out!”
After grabbing his treasured coin and baseball card collection, he darted to the room of his friend Nancy, a 77-year-old woman, who can barely walk and he knew would need assistance.
This is what Bobby does. He takes care of people. His warm-hearted nature is why a few years ago three of his siblings were all living with him and why he took a dog off the hands of a friend who was too busy to look after the pet.
Everyone safely escaped the five-alarm fire that burned six-buildings, including the hotel at the corner of Mission and 29th streets. The Montoya brothers were among 68 left homeless and they have spent the past month living in cheap motels around San Francisco on the verge of homelessness.
The loss of their housing was yet another blow in a string of unfortunate events for these men. In the past five years, they’ve both suffered serious medical issues hindering their ability to work and lost their wives.
And then they got lucky. Through the nonprofit Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) the Montoyas have a place to live for a year in a building that was purchased with city funds to house fire victims. The small, sunny one-bedroom on Guerrero is renting for $2,553, and the city is picking up the tab on more than half, making the accommodations affordable to two seniors living off social security checks and small savings. Even though the brothers don’t have any furniture and are sleeping on the ground without mattresses, the place is a dream come true.
The two have shared a tiny room for years, and now they’ll each have their own room, with one of them sleeping in the living room.
In a year, hopefully the Greywood Hotel will be rebuilt and the brothers can move back into their SRO, and MEDA can use the apartment to provide other displaced people with temporary housing.
The Montoyas are San Francisco natives and have spent their entire lives in the city. Bobby laid tile, slate and granite for 30 years and helped install and upkeep the tile flooring throughout Embarcadero Center. But now he can no longer do the work because his knees have given out.
Jose worked in the Alioto’s fishery and as a painter, until last year his legs began to swell and he was hit with severe edema. He was put in hospice as a medical team assumed he was dying. By some kind of miracle, he recovered but he has no feeling in his feet and nerve damage beyond repair.
Both brothers are drug free. Jose struggled with addiction for many years, but with Bobby’s support, he kicked the habit and has been clean for more than seven years.
“I’m glad he’s not doing what he was doing,” Bobby said. “I could never do drugs. I was working all those years. I didn’t want to get hooked on anything. I had to pay all the bills. My other three brothers came to stay with me.”
Bobby lost his wife of 20 years three years ago. Around the same time, Jose lost his wife of seven years. “I had stayed there with her the whole time,” Jose said. “Even slept there. The one time I went home to shower, shave and change clothes, she passed away. I felt so bad.”
“We’ve been having nothing but tragedy after tragedy,” Jose added.
Things are finally looking up now that they have permanent housing for a year, and they can return to what the Montoya brothers do best.
“We take care of family,” Bobby said. “We have a really close-knit family. Nine kids in the family. Jose is the youngest and I have to look out for him, but soon he’ll be looking after all of us.”
Want to help? Got some extra furniture sitting in your garage? The Montoyas lost nearly everything in the fire. They’re living in a completely empty apartment and have little clothing. They could especially use a couch, two full-size mattresses, a small kitchen table, chairs and a floor lamp. They could also use kitchen supplies such as dishes, cutlery and pots and pans. They both wear size large shirts; their shoe sizes are 9 and 10.5. The brothers are disabled and can’t carry heavy furniture into their apartment without assistance. You can reach the brothers at JoseMontaya74@gmail.com.