I am both someone with lived experience and a person in recovery. I’m from Santa Cruz, so it’s amazing to be in a place where I’m at now, and to be in the position that I’m at now.
During my period of homelessness, I struggled with substance use disorder and addiction. I could say a whole bunch about those experiences, but it all comes down to the fact that it was just sad and exhausting — that’s how I would summarize it all. When I think back to just dragging myself around, just trying to survive each day and meet my basic needs, it was a sad situation.
At that time, I was a participant at Housing Matters, as part of the River Street & The Loft program, and I now work at the Housing Matters campus myself, as a stabilization specialist, helping people maintain housing. When I did my original work orientation with Housing Matters, it was a trip because the Loft was so different from when I lived there; it brought me to a place of gratitude, because I am so far from it. It took me reaching a certain bottom — multiple bottoms — to get to this place. It’s a weird, full-circle situation.
After I left the Loft program by finding housing, I wasn’t able to maintain the housing — I didn’t have the tools, or the willingness, to do what was needed to maintain housing. I had to go into residential treatment and, from there, I had to live in supportive housing, since I’ve also had mental health challenges.
There are people who fall in your life, right, those little angels that fall in our life — sometimes you don’t realize that until later. Before I went into treatment, I was asked to leave the premises, and was trying to pack my things. I lived in Watsonville at the time, and I went to the local Salvation Army’s food pantry for some extra boxes. While trying to get the boxes for packing, I met the director at that time, Ryan Murray, and shared a bit of what was going on. He did a SMART Path assessment with me and, while doing that, he told me he could help me find a job once I completed my substance use disorder program.
When I finished treatment, I reached out to him, and got a job at the Salvation Army as a monitor. There was a case manager there, so I began shadowing her as well. It was a great learning experience, and I really enjoyed working with the two of them. I then started working as a case manager as well, and did both jobs at the same time.
From there, I began exploring other positions, and soon after started working as a residential counselor at Front Street, which was an amazing experience. I worked at their Opal Cliff facility, and was still working at the Salvation Army, so I worked seven days a week, no days off.
I took both experiences as a learning opportunity, and kept shadowing staff members to learn more about case management and their work. I also wanted more growth, so I started applying for other positions — that led to an opportunity at Encompass Community Services, as a coordinator. I began as a mentor for their transitional youth program, while also working at the Salvation Army.
Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, the county reached out to our program at Encompass, and looked to create a low-barrier shelter program at Simpkin Swim Center, which then transitioned into a trailer site program for transitional youth housing. I worked at the shelter as a mentor, and then advocated for myself to move into a supervisory role. I then transitioned to the YHDP (Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project) Case Manager. This was a fundamental part of my career and helped me develop better relationships with community partners. I had been in this field for some time, and had lived expertise, and so I advocated for a more advanced role.
Throughout all of these transitions and experiences, I have met so many people in the services field and in other agencies, and built so many relationships. There’s been so much learning and growth, and it’s been amazing to see how connected we are in this community.
At a certain point, I was looking for further growth opportunities, and I felt like my passions were leading me to other opportunities. That’s what led me to join Housing Matters, where I’ve been since June of 2022.
Through all of my experiences, I really have to acknowledge just how important these opportunities have been. It can be scary at times, but I have a program that is more stable than I have been before, and I know that if I continue what I’m doing, there is a bright future ahead. I don’t necessarily know what it will look like, but I’m in a better place now, and I have the tools now that, no matter what, it’s going to be okay.
This story was collected in February 2023 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager