Over the past decade and a half former Alabama Street resident Kieron Sinnette experienced all the elements of a rags-to-riches-to-rags story. Sinnette, an immigrant from Trinidad, arrived in San Francisco in 2001, less than a month after 9/11. He was an 18 year-old high school graduate, gay, homeless and unemployed. After securing assistance from Larkin Street Youth Services, he landed a job with California Federal Bank, and found an apartment.
In 2012, Sinnette launched his own business, ProLocal, offering communications and design services, which, by 2014, was generating six figure revenues. He married Yariv Rabinovitch. Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee appointed him as the LGBT representative on the Local Business Enterprise Advisory Committee, an oversight body that works with the San Francisco Contracts Monitoring Division.
“I consider myself a San Francisco native, I was raised by San Francisco,” Sinnette said in an interview with the View. “I came to SF and was homeless, and if it wasn’t for Larkin Street and an abundance of services, I never would have found success and never crossed six figures.”
Then Sinnette’s luck changed. Last April, Rabinovitch filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. The split impacted more than Sinnette’s marital status. “When we got married, that got me my green card. To get citizenship, you have to have a green card for three years, which for me expires next February,” he said. “That was the most hurtful part for me; staying married would have helped me with my residency, but Yariv filed for divorce less than two years into our marriage. It killed me.”
Rabinovitch declined to comment, other than to state that he and Sinnette are still in touch and “I always wish him the best.”
Still, Sinette’s business was booming. He’d hired four employees, working out of his Mission Creek home. He admitted that he “wasn’t too secure” with his personal information, leading to identity theft by one of his employees. That created trouble with banks and credit card companies, which closed his accounts. “I was paranoid; what’s going on with my life?” he said.
He decided to move from Mission Creek. He met a real estate agent who connected him with Park Merced. According to Sinnette, she filled out his application – he never saw it – which was approved within a week. The real estate agent didn’t return requests for comment to confirm Sinnette’s story.
Sinnette arrived at Park Merced a day before July 4 to pick up his keys and move in. He was told his application hadn’t yet been approved; his income hadn’t been verified. Sinnette spent several hours waiting at Park Merced’s office. It was finally confirmed that the real estate agent had submitted his application, which is against the rules, but, now at 5 p.m., Sinnette needed to come up with $4,000 for the deposit and first month’s rent. He ran to an ATM, requested a higher withdrawal limit, and came back with cash, to be told Park Merced doesn’t accept cash, only personal or cashier’s checks.
A Park Merced representative confirmed this is their policy. Sinnette then attempted to pay with a credit card, which Park Merced doesn’t accept. In any event, the card he tried to use was closed due to fraudulent charges.
Despite the rough start, Sinnette secured an apartment at Park Merced. Shortly after settling in, his car was stolen from the parking lot; later, his apartment was burglarized. He and three of his employees went to a Golden Gate Business Association lunch, on which Sinnete was a member of the board of directors, and when they returned they found chaos. “It caused me to lose my mind,” he said. “I fired my whole staff so then I could take things one by one. I halted operations [on ProLocal] because I couldn’t handle all these things. My car was stolen, my home was robbed. Essentially, I let go of everything. I had to take it step by step and try to move on with my life.”
He launched a new business, Dplane, an offshoot of “Into The ‘Hoods,” ProLocal’s first mobile application, which gives tourists a local’s experience of shopping, dining, and exploring San Francisco neighborhoods that are off the beaten path. He setup a new bank account with Chase, a challenging process because of the ongoing identity theft investigation.
In response to the stress, Sinnette decided to take a “staycation.” He turned off his phone, ate and slept for a week. At the end of July, less than 30 days after moving in, he received an eviction notice. “How could I be evicted after less than 30 days of being there? That pissed me off. I tried to reason with them and they started referring me to their lawyer,” he said.
After receiving no response from the lawyer, Sinnette remained at Park Merced, dealing with the lingering consequences of the identity theft and divorce. He put his apartment on Airbnb and booked it for three weeks straight, until the sheriff came and forcibly evicted him in September.
Park Merced declined to comment on the case, stating that due to privacy concerns it cannot speak about the experience of any specific current or former resident.
With few options left, Sinnette flew to Boston to stay with his sister and brother-in-law. He decided to join the U.S. Navy. He hopes the military will help him with his citizenship process. He plans to use the resulting military benefits to attend college.
“I came to this country when I was 16 years old to attend college,” he said. “I entered the country legally on a student visa and then dropped out of college when my parents disowned me after finding out I was gay. For the last 15 years since entering the country in 1999, I have gone from student visa, to no status for over 10 years, to finally getting my green card when I got married. Now that I’m divorced, my green card expires next February…I had to lose everything after my divorce to get me to the point to decide to join the Navy. If I didn’t lose everything I would have never considered joining the Navy [and now] … my citizenship is fast tracked, and I should complete the process in four months total. No more worrying about being deported and if I’m going to find someone else to marry, or going back to no status now that I’m divorced.”
Once he finishes basic training, which will take eight weeks, his application for citizenship should take another four months. “This is the rainbow I’ve been searching for,” he said. “The one good thing that will come out of all my recent dramas. I feel indebted to the City for taking me on like a lost boy, and helping me find success in a big city with college grads.”