Jenny and her son stayed in the Rebele Family Shelter (RFS) for a few months in early 2021. Jenny came determined to find housing. Her motivation and strength were apparent to Dulce Pardo-Vega, RFS Case Manager, and Diana Flores, RFS Program Manager. Her story represents all too many single mothers who come to us searching for a safe place for their children to lay their heads at night. In Santa Cruz County, there are roughly 125 families with children experiencing homelessness.
There are a lot of single moms that are homeless and I feel like nobody actually realizes that. Not everyone is using drugs or drinking either. I didn’t realize this until I came to Housing Matters and met so many women with stories just like mine. It is happening every day in our community and it is heartbreaking.
When I was 16 years old, I met Mark. Our relationship progressed quickly and I moved in with him and his family. Soon after, I became pregnant with my son. Things slowly became very toxic. After my son was born, I decided to leave Mark and went to stay with my mom on the East Coast. I was young, scared, and for the first time in my life, I had not only myself to take care of, but my son too.
After some time with my mom, I received legal notice that I was required to return to Santa Cruz. They were threatening to take my baby away. I couldn’t afford to live in Santa Cruz and it was not what was best for my son, but we had no choice. I was not going to lose him.
I left my entire support system to return to Santa Cruz. We stayed on friends’ couches and at hotels. I had to find a safe place for us to sleep each night and a way to earn an income to feed my child. I was a single, first-time mother and I was terrified.
The first day I returned to Santa Cruz, I went to every homeless shelter to get my name on the waiting lists. I knew I couldn’t afford to live in this area and had to do everything in my power to ensure my son was safe. Soon after, my phone rang. It was Diana Flores from Housing Matters. She had a room for me and my son. I couldn’t believe it.
The thought of bringing my son into a homeless shelter scared me. I desperately wanted more for him, I wanted to protect him and give him a good life. But everything changed when I met Diana. She greeted me as I walked into the shelter, and to my surprise, I felt safe.
I wanted something more for myself and my son. I wanted to be able to walk into my kitchen and cook a healthy meal for the two of us, to curl up on the couch together and watch his favorite shows. We hadn’t been able to do that for years and I was determined to make it happen. I was determined to find a place to call home and I felt deeply supported by the people I worked with at Housing Matters.
After weeks of searching, I connected with a woman in Felton through social media who offered me a room to rent. My son got along with her so naturally. I was just so amazed at how naturally it came together.
Knowing that I had finally done it, I had finally found a place for my son and me to live, was the biggest relief. I could finally look towards the future and give my son the life and stability he deserves.
I hope to one day come back and work for Housing Matters, to support others who are in a similar situation because I know how scary it is, especially for mothers. I plan to go back to school and pursue a career supporting people in my community and because of the stability housing gave me, I can finally start to dream again.
This story was collected in March of 2021 by Andrea Feltz, Community Engagement Manager