Clifton’s Story

I came to Santa Cruz from Reno, Nevada. I moved here to start a construction business, I knew a lot of people out here that needed work. I have been working in construction off and on since I was 12 years old, my whole family is in it. I could spell “construction” when I was three years old. 

I am an identical triplet. When we were younger, my mom and dad were having a hard time. My two brothers went to foster care and I stayed with my sister. My brothers got molested in foster care. They came back different. They started robbing 711s when they were 14. They killed themselves a few years later. I have seen a lot of darkness in my life and I don’t want to contribute to any darkness continuing on. That’s why I help as many people out on the street as I can. 

My change from Nevada gangster to businessman started in Santa Cruz in 2000. I’ve always been housed until I got to Santa Cruz. I couldn’t afford a place to rent and I was building my business, so I ended up camping out. I had a nice spot near Harvey West Park near one of those trails. I was tucked away and kept my spot clean. My things were neat and tidy and I tried to stay out of everyone’s way because people don’t always understand when they see someone who is homeless. 

When I got to Santa Cruz I was amazed at how horribly the homeless people were treated. I met many groups and coalitions that were against the homeless. I talked with the newspapers, the police, anyone who could help and nothing was being done about it. How could they do nothing? Men, women and children were dying and being hurt all around me and I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was complaining about the homeless crisis, but not doing anything about it. I just don’t really get you, Santa Cruz. I’m from Nevada and we take care of each other there. Here, not so much. 

I was on the streets for 10 years. I hated everything about it except the people. A lot of people don’t admit that they hate it out there, they convince themselves they like it and want to be outside. But really, no one likes it out there. It’s not good for anyone. I was treated so poorly by everyone, Safeway clerks, police officers, everyone. I’ve been stabbed 13 times. I’ve been jumped, I’ve been robbed. I’ve been disrespected. We’re the most misunderstood people of all people.

Everyone who is homeless is experiencing problems, you know. They all came from different places where stuff got bad and something terrible happened to them. People use those drugs to make them feel good. Other people have their cars, relationships, houses, kids to watch grow up. They have a lot to cheer them up. People who are homeless, they have nothing like that. So leave them alone and help them if you can. We gotta take care of each other. I love this town and I want it to be better. I want people to feel happy and safe here.

I found Housing Matters back in 2000. I used to come to Housing Matters to eat meals when they served meals to the public. It was kind of cool. We’d eat in the cafeteria all together, like 200 people. And more than that, we were all friends. It was a way for us to be together. Now, there’s probably 10 of those people left. So many of those guys have died since then. Homelessness kills people all the time, it is a lethal crisis. 

I used to come to Housing Matters in the early 2000s and pick up the homeless in my truck and bring them to construction sites for work. I started hanging out here again when I got out of prison, and hanging out with the homeless because it was just right. For a while I didn’t really need the facility here. I had my things going on and I had friends helping me. I was showing them and Santa Cruz that to the whole world Santa Cruz is thought of as cool, so we gotta help our neighbors out. 

Then I had to get surgery and went to stay in the Recuperative Care Center (RCC) for three weeks. It was kind of shocking ending up back on the streets after the RCC.

Then a while later, I was checking my mailbox at Housing Matters and had a letter that said there is an opportunity for housing at Casa Azul and I said “hey! that’s pretty exciting!” I couldn’t believe it. 

There are a lot of false promises when you’re homeless. People get their hopes up about housing or some opportunity and they start to think they’re getting their stuff right and then it doesn’t happen. That’s why you see people sitting outside crying because everything just falls apart over and over again. Casa Azul [has given] me security, I’m excited. 

Hope is one thing that you don’t even realize or feel anymore when you’re homeless. I say hope is, it’s too much living. Hope is something that you see out there and that you’re grasping for, something you want to have, something that you can reach for, because it keeps you looking forward. We all need hope, especially the homeless. Hope is really lost out there on the streets. For Casa Azul to come along is great because it gives everyone out there hope.

Now it is time for me to make my business and do what I came here to do.

This story was collected in October 2023 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager