Our unhoused neighbors each have a story, as we all do, and those stories often don't fit the stereotypes in our heads. Chris K. has been in Santa Cruz for 50 years. He needed a break to get back on his feet, and he got it through SafeSpaces. Chris is a working writer and published author. He has been unhoused here since 2015. He came to AFC SafeSpaces in June, 2021. This interview with Chris was conducted by Fr. Joseph Jacobs, Program Manager for AFC SafesSpaces, at the Rodeway Inn IQV Hotel, a program that recently shut down.
Q: How long have you been unhoused in Santa Cruz County?
A: For about 7 years; prior to that I had a place in LaSelva Beach for about a year, I had to move out quickly, it wasn’t safe. That’s when I started staying in my vehicle. For a while I used to find short term rentals easily. Before AirBnB, I’d rent a place for 1-3 months at a time, in between staying in my car. I just kind of “gypsied about” and found places I could furtively park my van, sleep, and leave during the day. I’m a pretty busy person, working, so I don’t hang about during the day.
Q: Where were you born?
A: Southern California.
Q: How long have you been in Santa Cruz County?
A: Since 1971, but for two years I lived in Mill Valley, while I wrote my first novel.
Q: How did you hear about SafeSpaces?
A: I think I found you on the internet. I had read about it in the newspaper, looked it up and called you. You got me into SafeSpaces at a church in Aptos. And then after that you got me in here [Rodeway Inn IQV Hotel program] really fast. It was a blessing. It was hard living in my van. I’ll say this much. I don’t think I would have survived a whole lot longer, and I really mean that, if it wasn’t for you and AFC. I was just exhausted, my foot was really wrecked [from a bad injury], it was hard to get around, it really wears you down. I still had some income from my writing, but it wasn’t enough to afford a place to rent and make ends meet, to pay my credit card bills every month. I was really losing energy fast and winding down. So, it was a blessing that it all showed up when it did. I don’t think I would have survived much longer.
Q: Yes, I made the referral for you to the IQV hotel program, and they took you right away.
A: Yes, that was amazing! I didn’t expect that. They’ve been great, I can’t say enough good about the staff here, they’ve all been superb. They’re very friendly. Colleen, the social worker who was working with me on the Section 8 voucher, she’s fantastic, wonderful, couldn’t ask for better.
Q: So long have you been here at the hotel?
A: Since the end of July, 2021.
Q: After you were here, how long before they took your application for Section 8?
A: Within a month, I had to get stuff, a copy of my birth certificate, bank statements, I finally got it all together and submitted it in January, then the Housing Authority interviewed me in February and then they called me and said “OK, you qualify, your packet will come in the mail.”
Q: Yes, we’ve found that the whole thing is pretty quick, once the application is submitted with all the documentation, they turn in around quickly.
A: I’m going to find a place in Watsonville as soon as possible. I don’t want to go back to my car. Now that I’ve been inside with a roof over my head for six months it would be really hard to go back to that. With ankylosing spondylitis [a form of inflammatory arthritis] you have to do a lot of physical activity, and I’ve been really disciplined about that. Every day I do three hours of physical therapy exercises, including walking barefoot for 30 minutes in moderately soft sand. It’s very therapeutic, so I want to keep fairly close to beach access for that.
Q: So, you finished your second novel while you’ve been here?
A: Yes, I finished the second draft while I was here, I got right to it, and I’m just doing final editing now. It was a big gift to be able to finish it here.
Q: Any final words about AFC and SafeSpaces?
A: I just think it’s a fantastic program, I’m so grateful to you guys. It’s a life saver, a Godsend. I think all the people that have anything to do with it have all been really great, and that makes a big difference. There’s no attitude of condescension, just all really good people, and they’re good to you. Thank God they came up with this program. It sure pulled me out of the rapids!