On a Sunday morning, Nelson walks three miles roundtrip between the tow yard where he keeps his car parked and the Tenderloin neighborhood, following a routine that involves picking up his breakfast at St. Anthony’s Dining Room. He passes people who have picked up meals and are eating them while sitting in chairs placed on the street by St. Anthony’s. The chairs are spaced six feet apart for social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. After the coronavirus pandemic began, service providers applied safety restrictions. No more open showers or restrooms. No more public seating to charge devices. No more dining rooms. Rather than claiming a chair on the street, Nelson prefers bringing his take-out food back to his car, and enjoys it in privacy.

Pandemic Makes Ride-Hailing Gig Untenable for S.F. Man Living in His Car

During the pandemic, parking enforcement has been lax, and the 72-hour rule that forced Gregory Nelson to park in a new spot every few days is suspended. He found peace and stability staying in one spot — his version of sheltering in place — like millions of Americans. But working from home was not possible for him. Every week he tried to drive for Lyft, Nelson grappled with out-of-pocket expenses to use the ride-hailing app: car rental fees, tolls, gas and the occasional car wash. Within weeks of the shelter-in-place order, Nelson could no longer afford driving.

Tantay Tolbert changes her son’s clothes on the dining room table in her new apartment. In March, the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco offered her a hotel room for 90 days, and this became her first step into stable housing. After the hotel room, she transitioned into subsidized housing. “They looked out for me during the time of my pregnancy,” Tolbert said. “They gave us vouchers and made sure we had something to eat. It was catered food every day. It was blessed.” On June 16, Hamilton Families gave Tolbert the keys to her new apartment. “On Tupac’s birthday. It’s a Black holiday,” she said. A time to celebrate.

From an RV to Four Walls and a Pantry: One New Mom’s Story

In a dimly lit living room, Tantay Tolbert reaches for a warm bottle of milk on the glass coffee table. Her month-old baby, Supreme Samuel Lloyd-Vaughn, softly cries in her arms. She caresses his black curls as she tilts the bottle into his mouth. “You were hungry, my baby?” Tolbert asks with a smile. “You eat a lot, baby.” It’s an ordinary day for Tolbert — comforting Supreme and dressing him in cute clothes. And yet, what seems ordinary now represents dramatic change and newfound stability.

Tantay Tolbert poses for a portrait with her son Supreme inside her 1977 Chevrolet Impala in front of her apartment in Richmond. She is hoping to get $10,000 when she sells this classic vehicle. Since the pandemic started, Tolbert and her partner have increased their car sales. “People are buying equity, and they can get to where they need to go,” she said. Tolbert says she has used some of her unemployment benefits to buy cars at auctions. She and her partner fix up the cars and sell them to people — some of whom are using their own unemployment benefits to pay for the vehicles. “We’ve been doing it since I was 21. I’m 38 now. We can do this with our eyes closed,” Tolbert said confidently. “This has been the whole solid foundation.”

Photo Essay — From an RV to Four Walls and a Pantry: One New Mom’s Story

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Public Press featured Tantay Tolbert in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” a photojournalism project by Yesica Prado documenting the experiences of people living in vehicles in the Bay Area. Prado followed up with Tolbert to find out how her life has changed in recent months.

“Quarantine Diary” depicts Yesica Prado’s personal experience living in an RV in Berkeley. As a CatchLight Local Fellow at the San Francisco Public Press, Prado spent the past year examining the culture of vehicle living in San Francisco and Berkeley. Her reporting and photojournalism are featured in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” which she produced for the San Francisco Public Press in collaboration with the Bay Area visual storytelling nonprofit CatchLight through its CatchLight Local Initiative.

‘Quarantine Diary’ Captures Experience of Living in an RV

Photojournalist Yesica Prado spent the past year examining the culture of vehicle living in San Francisco and Berkeley. Her reporting and photojournalism are featured in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis.” Prado created “Quarantine Diary” to show her personal experience living in an RV in Berkeley.

Tolbert gets dressed and does her curly hair for an afternoon work meeting. Tolbert says the RV “is a stepping stone because I want housing.” She is looking for a place costing no more than one-third of her income.

In the City, Off the Map: San Franciscans Struggle to Keep Their Mobile Residences

In San Francisco, stringent and widespread parking restrictions are a fact of life. But to the hundreds of city residents who live in their vehicles, these regulations can also be an obstacle to maintaining stability and getting off the streets. Vehicle dwellers play cat-and-mouse with the government’s enforcement apparatus, violating local laws to survive outdoors.

Tolbert le da un fuerte jale a la cuerda de su generador, que usa para prender las comodidades dentro de su RV cada día. Esto le permite usar electrodomésticos de cocina, la bomba de agua, luces y un calentador mientras recarga las baterías del vehículo por la noche. Tolbert comparte el generador con personas que viven en vehículos estacionados cerca de ella. En las calles, dijo, a las personas “no pensamos en ellos, punto.” Pero a través de la experiencia, muchos se vuelven fuertes después de ser derribados o descuidados por otros. “Te das cuenta de que vales la pena, en todas las maneras más difíciles. Y así es como es,” dijo. “Pero tú lo vales. Ustedes no saben su valor.”

En la Ciudad, Fuera del Mapa: Los Franciscanos Luchan por Mantener sus Residencias Móviles

En San Francisco, las restricciones de estacionamiento estrictas y generalizadas son una realidad. Pero para los cientos de residentes de la ciudad que viven en sus vehículos, estas regulaciones también pueden ser un obstáculo para mantener la estabilidad y salir de las calles. Los habitantes de los vehículos juegan al gato y al ratón con el gobierno, violando las leyes locales para sobrevivir al aire libre.

En medio del desorden, Nelson tiene lugares dedicados para almacenar lo esencial de todos los días. La guantera sirve como una mesita de noche que contiene cepillo de dientes, vasos, libreta de direcciones y condimentos para su próxima comida.

Los Franciscanos Luchan por Mantener sus Residencias Móviles

Este ensayo fotográfico acompaña a la historia “En la Ciudad, Fuera del Mapa: Los Franciscanos Luchan por Mantener sus Residencias Móviles,” que forma parte del proyecto “Conduciendo a Casa: Sobreviviendo la Crisis de la Vivienda” (Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis).