The saying, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” while common isn’t often achievable for people who, alone, face impossible obstacles and hardships. Without family or friends’ support, how many of us could deal with losing our job and our home, especially with children to care for? How many of us could even house ourselves for very long without at least one person willing to extend a hand in help? This week on our blog, we have the privilege of sharing Alexandria’s story, another resilient spirit who has successfully graduated our Housing Support Program. Alex, although a strong woman with a beautiful heart and tenacious spirit, has a story like so many in care. She needed help at the most critical time but didn’t know how or where to get it. But she never stopped trying. Please enjoy reading about her amazing success.
I think we all encounter seasons of life when it feels like everything is going wrong. For me, things started to go downhill about a year ago. Originally from San Diego, I had come to the Central Coast for a great job in Paso Robles and for my education, but the store I was working in was bought out and I was laid off. Around the same time, my rent went up drastically. I was honest with my landlord about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with rent, and I ended up giving notice and moving out. I had nowhere to stay locally, so I took my three children to Fresno to stay with their grandparents for a few months while I couch surfed with friends and slept in my car. During that time, I kept up with my online classes through Cuesta, and traveled to SLO from Fresno weekly to do the in-classroom portions.
The whole situation of losing my home and having nowhere to care for my children was very stressful for me. I am thankful for my kids’ grandparents because they were able to help me take care of my kids during that season, saving them from experiencing the danger and stress of being homeless. For me, however, the stress of not having a home consumed me. I lost a lot of weight, and stayed at school late at nights often because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
I told my CalWorks case manager here in San Luis Obispo about my housing situation, and she referred me to the Housing Support Program (HSP). I was interviewed and accepted into HSP. After being accepted, my case worker broke down the process with me in detail and explained what sort of support HSP provides, what they teach in the workshops, and how they help families titrate off of the support of the program as we obtain housing and maintain stability. The workshops that they teach in HSP are very helpful, such as teaching how to fill out housing applications correctly, how to interact with landlords and property managers when applying for housing, budgeting, and how to fix your credit score. They even had a property manager come and talk with us about how he assessed for good tenants, which gave us a lot of insight and encouragement. I also learned more about how Section 8 works, and even though I do have my own housing right now, I’m still on the list and will be notified if something opens up that is appropriate for my family, which would be great in the future.
It was very difficult for me to find housing on the Central Coast for several reasons. First of all, I’m a single mom of three children. Secondly, I have very limited income as I can only work part-time in addition to attending classes at Cuesta and parenting well. In SLO County, property managers are very picky. They want to see proof of income that is three times the cost of the already ridiculously high rent, and I can’t possibly afford anything large enough for the four of us. I felt like every time I applied for housing, landlords looked at me and saw crayon and paint on the walls rather than my situation and need. My HSP case manager taught me a lot about what to say (and what not to say) during house viewings and interviews. I think that one of the most valuable things I’ve learned through HSP is that specifically in SLO County, getting housing is all about who you know, and that we need to learn how to network. After several months of applying for apartments every week, a coworker told me about a housing opening in an apartment complex. I found a friend to partner with as a roommate so that we could afford the rent together. HSP helped with my part of the rent initially, but now I’ve titrated down and soon I’ll be paying my entire portion when we graduate from the program.
When we were accepted for the apartment, the timing was really blessed. I had a friend moving who was getting rid of a lot of furniture and was able to give a lot of it to me. Everything else that I needed was provided by HSP so I didn’t have to worry about additional move-in costs. Our case worker helped us to budget with the funds we were given for move-in needs, and with some wrangling, they delivered a bunk bed set for my kids, new kitchen gadgets, towels, a vacuum cleaner, and everything else we could possibly need. The first day we stepped into our new home, it felt like Christmas, with packages and paper everywhere! Now that we have our own space, my kids and I relax and enjoy our home every weekend together. We can run around outside in the yard, do crafts, and have a lot of fun together. My confidence levels and self esteem are also back up, and it’s so comforting to know that I have a house that is mine. I come home to my space, not someone else’s couch or living in constant fear that I’ve overstayed my welcome with friends. Most importantly, my children feel safe and secure, and we’re able to be together as a family.
I feel ready to be graduating the Housing Support Program in a few months. The support has been amazing, but I am doing well and I know that there are other people in the area that really really need the help of HSP. I’m not new to being on my own and paying rent, but if the program hadn’t been there for me when everything fell apart, I don’t even want to think about where I’d be right now. Graduation will be a sad ending to the program, because my case worker and all of the other staff have been such an amazing support. But I also feel like I’ve built my own support network now, and I’m more aware of the resources in SLO county that I can utilize. We all come to points in our lives when we need our community to help pick us back up when we’re down so I’m thankful to feel more connected to the Central Coast through the Housing Support Program.
I haven’t studied the demographics of San Luis Obispo County in depth, but it seems to me that there are a lot more wealthy and financially stable people here than those who aren’t. The socioeconomic disparity is very evident to me, and I think that there is room for a lot of positive change in our community. I want to remind those who are high-up and well-off that some of us can do everything we can to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”, but sometimes we’re still left in the dirt. When things went downhill for me, I tried desperately to pull myself up, but what I needed was a community to help lift me up, and I’m so thankful that I finally found that through the Housing Support Program.
Currently, I have a wonderful home and I totally love my work-study job at Cuesta College. I plan to apply to Cal Poly and a few other California colleges when I finish my AA in Sociology and Poli-Science, but Cal Poly is my first choice because of its reputation around the state, and I feel like it would open up some amazing career opportunities to me. However, as a mom, I’ll never put my kids on the back burner to my professional life. I’m a parent first no matter what, and I value time with my kids more than anything. After graduating with a Sociology degree, I want to work with the government or a local nonprofit to fight human trafficking. I want to be in the game, and stop this horror from happening in our own country and to our children and youth. I have a lot of passion for those in hard circumstances, and while my journey has been challenging, I feel like it has equipped me to make a difference in the lives of others.