February is Heart Month, and we are highlighting some of the amazing individuals at the heart of our services. We want to introduce you to Carole, an amazing individual who has recently graduated from the Housing Support Program. We hope you find her journey inspiring, and that her words might help instigate needed change. We certainly think that she is an inspiration! The following is her story, shared with us in a recent interview.
Before moving to San Luis Obispo County, I lived in Long Beach working as an Executive Assistant for the CEO of a very successful corporation. I had everything; I owned a house, had a nice car and a nanny who cared for my daughter. However, when the economy tanked, my life dramatically changed and I was forced to move to northern California to be closer to family. I quickly discovered that there were no opportunities there, and that it was not a positive environment for my daughter. I had friends here in SLO County, and when I came for a visit, I found a job and decided to move down here. Soon after my move, I got a call that my adult son who was struggling with addiction had a six-month old baby who desperately needed my care. I went to pick up my granddaughter, and from that moment, my life changed.
When I first started caring for my granddaughter she was ill and needed to spend some time in the hospital. After the hospital, she had frequent doctor visits, so I needed to take time off of work which was not well-received by my employer. My hours were cut to the point where I wasn’t able to get by on my income. Around the same time, my landlord sold the house that I was living in, and gave me sudden notice that I needed to move out. Suddenly, I found myself sleeping on friends’ couches, not sure what to do. Meanwhile, I was trying to get custody of my granddaughter and find a safe living situation for she and my sixteen year old daughter.
I went to Child Welfare Services for support and advice as I gained custody of my granddaughter, and they were wonderful. I had an excellent case worker there who learned that I didn’t have housing, and that we were couch surfing and sleeping in my car. Having once been very successful, all of this was a very humbling experience, and I realized it was important to change the trajectory of my life from what I thought was “necessary to live” and what I thought I had to have, to what was needed for survival. Child Welfare Services referred me to their Housing Support Program (HSP) with the Family Care Network. After I met with FCNI and learned more about the program, I thought it all sounded too good to be true.
After starting the Housing Support Program, I started going to the weekly classes they offered, and although it was mostly information I already knew since I had been a homeowner and financially successful in the past, it helped to have support and to not feel alone. I also made some connections there, and I realized that others were in the same boat as I was, also struggling to find a home in SLO County. Through HSP there were a lot of resources made available to me that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. For instance, the Homeless liaison at the high school got track shoes for my teenage daughter so she could be on the team. I very much appreciated the moral support when being rejected time and time again by landlords for every home I applied for, and HSP kept me accountable and motivated to keep going out there and continuing to apply even when I was constantly being turned down.
Even with all of the support of HSP, it was still very hard to find housing. I have no credit history because I have no credit cards nor any debt. I’d go to house showings and get really discouraged because Cal Poly students would show up with their parents’ credit cards and share houses with their friends so that landlords could easily make thousands more a month. After applying for apartments day after day for months on end, I realized that I could have all the money in the world, but if a landlord didn’t like me, or maybe just didn’t like my shoes that day, I wouldn’t get the apartment. In the meanwhile, I stayed part-time in a motel with my girls, crashed couches when I could, and stayed in my car some nights, continuing to apply for apartments almost every day. After a year and a half, I found a really wonderful landlord who offered me a great one-bedroom apartment in Morro Bay because she was very understanding about my situation.
Ten years ago I was working to gain things, and I had all of these things, and the more I had, the more I had to work to sustain them. When my daughter was younger, I worked and traveled so much that I didn’t spend much time with her. Losing everything and being pushed together into a small space has brought us closer, and I’ve decided that my goal is to work towards having a life with meaning and not material things, because I know that material possessions are easy to lose. The things that I can control are how I spend my time and who I spend it with, and I want to spend it with my girls. I want to do something that’s meaningful and has a positive impact, and if that’s not having a new car, that's fine. I don’t care about that anymore, and that’s been the lesson and takeaway for me. I think had to go through everything just to find that I’m left with my precious family, relationships that matter, and a more realistic and grounded outlook.
To landlords and property managers in SLO County, I want to say that everyone is an individual and should be treated with respect. Listen to their story. The majority of people, even when they’re in a hard situation like I have been, need a chance at decent housing. I understand that your motivation is financial, but we all have basic needs that need to be met, and this can only happen if you have a community mindset. If you are willing to work with a program like HSP, you are guaranteed so much support and you benefit a lot by participating. Get on board, give people a chance, and treat everyone equally and respectfully regardless of credit, connections, finances, or social standing. By the time you have a home and also property to rent out, you may have moved past the point where you remember what it was like to struggle, but please try to remember what it’s like to be in our position. I’m lucky that I finally found an amazing landlord who was willing to take a chance on me, and I will never let her down.
Residents in this area seem to see what they want to see and remain blind to all of the homeless families and people in need. Sure, there are shelters, but they’re full and not always the safest place for children. The income and cost of living disparity in SLO County is shocking, and in reality, most people are just trying to get by. There needs to be a whole societal shift so that we do not have any homeless children in our community, and this takes unity of vision and aligning values with that goal. The landlords in this community need to stop working around the laws and provide real low-income housing. I think that anytime there is housing development there should be a required amount of low income housing that is reserved for families and hard-working individuals, because we need a chance.
I’ve graduated the Housing Support Program successfully because so many people took a chance on me, and I’m thankful that I have a small but wonderful home. After losing my job, I started to take classes at Cuesta College, and found that they have a lot of support services. The CAFE office at Cuesta is full of amazing people who are informed about community resources and educational programs which have made it possible for me to be successful in college. They also opened up an opportunity for a great job for me there at Cuesta through the work study program. I’ll graduate with two AA’s this May in Sociology and Behavioral Science, and then transfer to an online program, hopefully through Chico State, to finish my Bachelor’s degree so that I can work with teen parents. I have a vision to teach life skills and also help at-risk youth increase their likelihood of going on to college and being successful. I’m also proud to say that my daughter will graduate high school next year with honors, and that soon I’ll be able to finish the adoption process with my granddaughter.
Life is now simple and good.