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Traumatized by Santa Cruz's Housing Crisis
~ This powerful testimony was from a reader, M.S., reacting to my previous article on Santa Cruz’s housing crisis. I received permission to share it. ~
This article touched me in so many ways I’m almost on the verge of tears. I dont know if you’ll see this but I wanna tell my experience to someone who gets it! I graduated University of California (UCSC) back in June. I was “lucky” (Porter slums (Porter is a sub-college at UCSC), cramped triples) enough to manage to live on campus for my whole career as a student (save the pandemic) and the final year I only managed to stay on campus as an Resident Assistant. I knew finding a place here in Santa Cruz was tough but its worse than I could have ever imagined.
I initially accepted a sublet for the summer just so I could have a place to stay while searching. $1,300 a month for a bedroom in a house of 6. It was a disgusting and filthy place. The landlord is someone who owns a slew of homes near bay and nobel and maintains none of them. Just packed full of students. As my September move out date was approaching I was getting more and more desperate. I wasn’t getting any responses on Facebook anymore and hardly anything on Craigslist. I’d been trying so hard for months. I’d easily contacted over 50 people in 3 months.
I was near suicidal. I was so scared and still am. I dont have a car I could live in. No family to move back with. I have a partner who lives in an 8 person household whose generosity I could only take so much of.
Until finally a response!
An interview on a Thursday night! I showed up and we hit it off. They said they would email me the rental application. Since I had work all weekend I couldn’t get to the application until Saturday night. By Sunday morning they informed me they’d already given the room away to someone who sent in the application and deposit. I never stood a chance. I excused myself from work and broke down crying in the middle of downtown. People walking past pretending not to hear and see you like they do to the homeless. In two weeks [being homeless] would’ve been my reality.
Calling the suicide line because you’re risking homelessness is wild. They are utterly unable to process or think of a way to help you. They “it’ll be okay!” you to death for an hour. It’s not that I want to die, it’s just that I dont see any other option.
I’m scared. I’m just a girl, 5’1”, 24 years old. The idea of losing everything and pitching a tent that will get thrown away when I return from a trip to the grocery store is too much to bear.
Finally though, [I got] another response. I figured this was the light at the end of the tunnel after I lost hope. It was in a nice neighborhood in one of the few apartment complexes around. It almost sounded too good to be true. $900 rent, 8 minute walk to the beach, balcony access, gorgeous ‘70s-style paneling everywhere and only two other housemates! I could have my pick of a master bedroom or a smaller room since there were two vacancies. I hit it off with the primary lease holder. After telling her my story she even said she took the listing down since I was a shoe in.
Everything was looking up, I even got a new job and a friend gave me a scooter to ride around in. I sent in the rental app, paid the fee, set up an interview with the housing manager. I did everything right! But i could tell that the manager was dragging her feet and giving the lease holder the run around.
Three days later I had moved out of my sublet and waited for move-in at my partner’s house. Then the lease holder told me she’d been been served a 60-day notice and “termination of tenancy” due to the unit requiring “repairs”. That’s bullshit speak for “we are booting you out so we can do a new paint job and increase the rent”. It’s a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, two story apartment, with two wrap around balconies and a private driveway AND a stones throw from the beach. For $3,000 or so a month total.
Yeah. . . it really was too good to be true. So where does that leave me? Essentially homeless you could say, just not unhoused. The lease holder was kind enough to let me move in under the table, since they’re not letting her sublet the empty rooms. The situation is anxiety inducing and precarious. I haven’t unpacked anything other than my sheets and a mattress on the floor.
I’m scared someone will realize I’m here and boot me or I find my stuff on the curb after I get home from work. What sucks about being in this housing limbo is that I feel stuck. I cant unpack, i cant relax, i cant start anything I want to do — no projects, nothing. I have a sewing machine I got as a grad gift that I haven’t been able to use, sketched paintings I haven’t been able to start, art commissions I haven’t finished, a bass I haven’t practiced.
All because of this!
I don’t even buy groceries anymore! Just small food stuffs for the day. Just in case I need to pack up immediately and go. I have another interview lined up soon, according to the emails I’m exactly what they’re looking for. But im still anxious. What little thing could make them deny me?
I have my hair parted in sections at the moment in preparation for braids, and wracking my brain to figure out how I can fix it real quick to look presentable in case the interview is scheduled today. Also debating whether or not to have my braids visible on camera. What if box braids are too “ghetto” in their eyes? I have the privilege of being a woman and having lighter skin, but I still have that fear in me: “what if I’m too black for them? What if that’s why they dont pick me?” Shucking and jiving, juggling, and the anxiety of finding the “right” thing to say so that you don’t end up homeless is something that will stick with me forever.
It’s trauma that will stay with me forever. The situation here will make one suicidal, depressed, angry, violent, hopeless, and above all crazy. There’s a level of despair in the air in this town at all times because of it. If you’ve smelled it once you will forever. I’ve thought about shooting myself on a landlords doorstep, or at the housing managers office.
I saw a homeless encampment being thrown out 20ft away from the all the campaign signs and NIMBY measure posters that litter Mission and Center. I’ve seen posters that talk about the housing crisis for students, an offer a paid parking lot for those sleeping in their cars to park safely in as a solution. It will radicalize you and then drive you insane after long.
~ After I read this testimony in my inbox, which was written with the knowledge that only I would see it, I asked them for permission to re-publish i.t ~
If you could elevate this I give my permission whole hardheartedly. When you see me walking down the street you would never guess this is my situation, make up done, hair laid, gold hoops. They have this image of homeless people as dirty and sitting on the corner with their change cup. But its also me! The one serving your $9 coffee, smiling as I pour your $70 bottle of wine, slicing prosciutto for your charcuterie boards. Both me and the man on the corner deserve to live!
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