COPA, one of AFC’s partners in housing work, is hosting a forum on Saturday, January 27 at Green Acres School from 3:00-5:00 that will focus on tenants' rights and housing retention. Importantly, a portion of the time will be devoted to explaining the new taxes, and how they may add much needed revenue to programs around housing and homeless services. Candidates for County Supervisor and City Council have been invited to share their plans for helping renters facing illegal eviction. Join AFC’s board and staff at this important event!
When Travis first came to the Faith Community Shelter, he was more than a little hesitant. Although he had spent the last 20 years in Santa Cruz County without permanent housing, he had never been in a local shelter, and had no desire to be. He imagined a crowded space, filled with substance use and interpersonal drama. The idea of a shelter in his head was so off-putting, he turned down a spot in AFC’s shelter initially. After some nudging from staff and volunteers, and a lack of safe sleeping options, he joined.
While the shelter wasn’t perfect, what he found surprised him. It was more welcoming and friendly than he expected, with a generally supportive group of people. He had more personal space than expected, and found the shelter’s relatively small size much easier to handle.
Travis’ journey to enter the shelter was a long one. After growing up in Maine, he landed in Boston as a young adult. When he arrived, he worked odd jobs and retail, trying to piece together enough to get by. He would couch surf, live with girlfriends, and, when needed, sleep outside. This already challenging life was about to get more difficult, as he had his first severe epileptic seizure. The seizure and subsequent fall landed him in the hospital, requiring reconstructive surgery on his jaw and arm. After two years in Boston, he knew he needed a change.
As he surveyed his options, some friends from Food Not Bombs in Boston recommended trying California. They thought he’d connect with the laid-back lifestyle and hippie culture, so he gave it a go. He first landed in Humboldt County, but eventually made his way down to Santa Cruz County. By the time he arrived, he was receiving regular SSDI payments for his epilepsy, and had a steady girlfriend. Together, they were able to afford a rental in Brookdale and begin building a life together.
Things initially went well, but, as Travis acknowledged, he began to unravel. Lack of mail access in Brookdale caused a mix up in his SSDI, which caused it to lapse. He began relying more heavily on alcohol. His relationship became stressed, and his choices became worse. After four and half years in Brookdale, he lost his relationship and his housing.
For the next 20 years, Travis went without permanent housing. He worked hard, picking up odd jobs and helping Food Not Bombs, but could never afford a place of his own. He’d piece together temporary places to stay, and when those ran out, he’d get together his camping gear and sleep outside. When the winter storms of 2023 hit, life outside became untenable. He squatted in a storage shed to escape the rain, but was soon kicked out and back in the elements, which led him to the Faith Community Shelter.
Despite his hesitance, the shelter proved to be a much-needed reprieve. He remembers everything felt so much easier than sleeping outside. He had good meals, a clean mat, and the space to focus on his health and housing. The timing turned out to be ideal.
After a few months in the shelter, his name came up on the Section 8 waitlist, which would allow him a rental subsidy if he could find an apartment locally. While staff was thrilled, Travis was skeptical at first. His name had come up on the waitlist twice before, and he could never find a rental before the voucher expired. Fortunately, this time proved different.
Staff gave him options to explore, and he found a renewed motivation to make use of the voucher. At one point, he went up and down Pacific Avenue, talking to every leasing office that was open. When he came to the Palomar Inn, which has housed several FCS participants, he took an application, filled it out, and had AFC staff review it and help with the application fee. After he turned it in, several of the building’s residents stopped by the leasing office to put in a good word for him. Within a few weeks, he was approved and moving in.
There’s always an adjustment period when someone is rehoused after years, but Travis is doing remarkably well settling in this next phase of life. He’s reapplying for Social Security, and receiving temporary financial assistance from the county. He used it to treat himself to a new coffee maker. Now, each morning, he makes himself a nice cup of coffee, sits in his recliner, and watches the sunrise over the boardwalk from his apartment window. On the table nearby, he has a few of AFC’s business cards, just in case he runs into someone who needs help getting back on their feet.