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“One of the greatest challenges was the sense of being cast aside. Being a second-class citizen. Not being good enough. Being that homeless girl. If you had a backpack and bike you were immediately classified as homeless and were treated as such by everyone.” 

Sarah became homeless and struggled to escape the cycle because "our community's public protections and social programs failed." Luckily, her journey ends in housing and working within the same system that let her down, to be a beacon for good to those on the street.

10 years ago, over the course of 120 hours, Sarah’s mother died and their landlord chose to sell the property. Sarah had to bury her mother and move out of her long-time home in less than a week. Sarah was her mother’s IHSS (In-Home Support Services) worker, so, when she passed, Sarah had to collect unemployment. Unfortunately, unemployment does not cover the cost of rent, a security deposit, and other move-in expenses. Her only option was to move in with a relative, who promptly dropped her off at a homeless shelter on their way to Costco.  

After a few months of couch surfing and living on the street, Sarah inherited her mother's housing choice voucher, formerly known as Section 8. Briefly, she moved into her own apartment. After a few months, Sarah’s new landlord wrongfully attempted to collect a rental payment after receiving the full rental payment from the voucher program. Disgruntled, the landlord reported Sarah for squatting and had the authorities remove her from the property. Unjustly, this was non-negotiable. Sarah had 5 minutes to gather her things and leave to the street. Everything left was taken to the dump by the authorities. 

This began Sarah’s 5-year stint of homelessness. 

After years of wandering and just getting by, Sarah began working with the Sacramento Self-Help Housing Homeless Outreach Navigator. Outreach Navigators work as a resource for those on the street, helping people like Sarah get on track to secure permanent housing through navigating the housing and social program inventories of the region. When forced to leave her home, she lost important documentation that the navigator was now working to reclaim. Sarah slept in a tent while waiting for her items to be processed. “I was on the street waiting. It was absolute misery. I experienced some messed up stuff.” 

One morning, Sarah woke up to a text. The navigator’s connections and her patience paid off. She was moving into her own place at Quinn Cottages in Sacramento.

This was one of Sarah’s first messages to the navigator after being housed: “Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see me. I’ll be in the shower turning into a prune. And I’m fine with that.” 

Once settled, Sarah posted a donation drive on Next Door to collect sleeping bags for the homeless. It was almost winter. The response was incredible. At one point, “Hugs for the Homeless,” sold out the entire stock of sleeping bags on Amazon.com. This work was noticed by HOPE Cooperative, a fellow 501(c)3 organization in the region, who offered Sarah a job as a Homeless Outreach Navigator.

“I’ve come a long way from eating Popeyes Chicken right out of the dumpster. Now I have a brand new car and my own place. I have a life now. I have dreams, goals, and aspirations. And I’m making it happen. I’ve slept in parks, in cemeteries, I’ve slept in tents. You name it, I have been there. I’ve come a long way. Now I’m really glad to be giving back to my community.” 

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Those experiencing homelessness often live with a multitude of personal challenges, such as an unforeseen loss of a home or family member or adjusting to the material conditions of life on the street. Some may have histories of trauma, including sexual, psychological, or physical abuse which make the transition back to a life of permanent housing almost insurmountable. Breaking through the barrier of “wanting to get off the street,” is the most difficult and first step on their journey to permanent housing.

“Regardless of their history, I am here as a resource and judgment-free friend to help them get off the street when they are ready.” Says the Citrus Heights Navigator. “The best we can do for some of our community's unhoused that are caught up in addiction or interpersonal conflict is be ready and willing to help when they make the decision to try and get off the street. Everyone’s on a different path.”

Jeremy (left) was homeless and an addict for 5 years. He lost a child to a rare condition, and couldn't think of a way forward, so he turned to a fix and the street.

About 5 months ago his mother died - he hit rock bottom. Jeremy had no support system and not much to live for. “Once I recognized that everyone in my life was afraid of me, I knew I needed to get off the street.”

After 5 years of going to the Citrus Heights HART Winter Sanctuary, a local winter shelter program for the unhoused during the coldest months of the year and periodically communicating and neglecting the Navigator and HART Volunteers, Jeremy made the decision to enlist their help.

At the beginning of August 2021, Jeremy is 90 days sober and excelling in the Grace House recovery program. 

Citrus Heights HART paid his rent on the recommendation from the navigator. - "Jeremy’s ready to get off the street."

For people like Jeremy, the willingness to accept help is the first and biggest step off the street. Now, it’s not always hitting rock bottom that prompts this change. Sometimes it comes in the form of a loss of a family member or a simple urge to take a shower and sleep in a bed. “Whatever it is,” says the navigator, “it is critical for us to be there ready to provide barrier-free support.”

Next up, Jeremy is taking the court-ordered appropriate steps to get back into the lives of his children and leads a homeless outreach ministry within his recovery program where he prepares and serves 50+ meals a week to the unhoused in Citrus Heights.

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In life, progress takes many forms, from transformative to negligible. It can be accepting a well-deserved, higher-paid position, deciding to spend more time with the family, or simply making marginal improvements to your day-to-day routine to be healthier. Oftentimes in the social services space, progress is holding the course in a progressive state of recovery from a societal, economic, or mental health condition bogging you down. Such is the case with the newest SSHH employee and graduate of the Grace House recovery program, David.
 
The last time we spoke with David, he was thankful for SSHH’s Homeless Outreach Navigator and Citrus Heights HART supporting the start and (can confirm) longevity of his journey in recovery. Since, David has made great strides. Thanks to a sponsorship from HART, David once again has his license and graduated from the recovery program - sober. He’s employed full-time by the agency that supported, and still supports, his transition off the street onto a life of permanent and sustainable housing.
 
“My journey off the street and my recoveries are one and the same, a new way of life. I put in work in both, every day. I stay busy doing what I find joy in and take matters day by day. SSHH and Citrus Heights HART had shown me compassion, getting involved in compassion is what I needed to keep going.”
 
Going forward, David’s goal is to stay consistent. “I’m not getting high today.” But also to revel in what he’s achieved. David is now 400 days sober, living in and paying for his own room, and holding a leadership position in his support group.
 
David can be found Tuesdays at the Arden library and Wednesdays at Carmichael Park, where he meets with the local homeless to offer advice and housing referrals, as an SSHH Homeless Outreach Navigator. The job of a  Homeless Outreach Navigators is to help the unhoused find their way back to a life of permanent housing.

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Meet Eric (Right). Eric is thriving in our SIP Permanent Supportive Housing program. Before getting connected with SSHH, Eric was homeless and arrested over 25 times for public intoxication and other similar alcohol-related violations. Since moving into SIP housing, he hasn’t had a single run-in with the law.
 
The SIP program logic is as follows: it is more cost-effective to move a serial user of emergency services into permanent housing than to leave them on the street to keep getting arrested and spending community dollars. SIP program participants are able to drink in the safety of their home (like you and me). Each house is placed near a liquor store so participants have safe access to drinks and stay off the streets. When they are ready to try sober living, we move them into a recovery program or dry house. SIP is part of SSHH's Permanent Supportive Housing Program.

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Meet Tina. Though she is thrilled to have her own one-bedroom place in the new Elk Grove Quail Run Apartments, Tina insisted the story she told was not about her individual journey, but about the struggle of seniors in the current housing climate. As she gestured around her living room, “those of us getting older in California have nowhere to go when our rent is too high. The resources for people like me seem non-existent. Though I am grateful to SSHH and the City of Elk Grove for the apartment, resources are few and far between, considering the number of homeless and rent-burdened seniors.”

On one night in 2019, there were 1,097 homeless older adults in Sacramento County. Around 700, or 65% of homeless seniors were living on the street. This is no surprise considering 18% of all unsheltered persons are over the age of 55.

According to 2019 California numbers, 56% of low-income seniors are severely rent-burdened. Compared to 28% of the general population, seniors are in dire straights. Low-income seniors who rent, numbering more than half a million in California, can be forced to move far from their established social and medical networks to find rentals they can afford; they may end up in substandard housing, or at worst homeless. This can have deadly consequences. Housing instability and homelessness make preserving medication, receiving regular health care services, and getting a vaccine nearly impossible. Those that are rent-burdened are far more likely to miss a medical appointment or avoid healthcare all together due to its costs.

Why are Seniors in California disproportionately susceptible to homelessness? The answer is complex, but can be distilled to two reasons: First, fixed incomes, such as SSI or retirement accounts, can no longer cover the increasing cost of rent. Second, the Capital Region's housing inventory falls short to meet seniors' public and subsidized housing needs.

What helped Tina? Tina is housed because of an innovative partnership between SSHH, Elk Grove HART, the City of Elk Grove, and the “Affordable Housing” Quail Run Apartments. SSHH’s Homeless Outreach Navigator was able to provide wrap-around case management and supportive services to help Tina apply. Thanks to the navigator’s help, and Tina’s perseverance, she qualified and was chosen to move at the beginning of May.

For perspective, when the Quail Run Apartments announced plans to open 96 new affordable housing units, 28,000 individuals and families applied. More needs to be done.

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