A story of Hope, Respect, Wellness, Self-Determination, and Collaborative Relationships
Fay lived on the streets of Santa Monica for over 15 years. She was well known in Santa Monica because she lived in a little house she constructed out of a cardboard box and duct tape. Fay’s “house” was on wheels and she pushed it wherever she went.
Citizens, City officials, and many agencies serving individuals experiencing homelessness reached out to Fay with no avail. It was Step Up’s Outreach team that patiently built a trusted bond with her in hopes she would accept the better options for self-care being offered.
Fay saw Step Up’s psychiatrist three times, received medical care three times from an outreach doctor from Venice Family Clinic, had blood drawn at a lab, and expressed interest in being housed. One day, a scheduling mix-up meant the doctor couldn’t see Fay. This stress caused an increase in her mental health issues and Fay disengaged for about 6 months. Then, a very sympathetic and tactful officer from the HLP Team managed to convince Fay to enter his police vehicle, and he drove her to court. Step Up was there to meet Fay. After years of refusing help, Fay was so impressed with her four appearances before the court that she agreed to fill out a housing application. Because of this her Shelter Plus Care Housing Voucher from the Santa Monica Housing Authority was approved. Step Up was able to locate an apartment for Fay, but she was ambivalent throughout the process. She would sign the housing application then direct staff not to submit it. She would visit the property and then dismiss it because there is no smoking in the courtyard. At each stage of her progress, Step Up staff worked with Fay patiently to address her concerns and support her fear of change and the unknown. After Fay signed the lease for her apartment, she refused to even visit the property. Step Up’s relationship with the property management allowed us to receive the keys and take official possession of the unit. Even after having agreed to the housing, signing the lease and selecting the furniture, Fay would not move in.
Step Up team continued to make daily attempts to contact Fay and increase her openness to moving in to, or at least visiting her apartment. Weeks after receiving the key, Step Up convinced Fay to visit. She stayed for 20 minutes.
After the Judge in Homeless Community Court ordered Fay to stay in her apartment for one afternoon, Fay agreed. She and the team decided to make lunch of it and Fay cooked in her new apartment for the first time:
She only stayed the afternoon but softened to the idea of staying longer. Finally, in October 2010, Fay agreed to move-in!
She asked Step Up to help put her “home” in her home:
Fay turned her creative energy toward making items inside her now home. This is her T.V. stand creation:
Step Up anticipated Fay would want to keep the “home” that has sheltered her for years of living on the street. She took great pride in its construction and reconstruction. She spent the majority of her monthly income on materials to continually update and change it. To the staff’s surprise, about four months after she moved in, Fay asked Step Up staff to assist her in throwing it away:
Step Up was heartened to see this change in Fay’s life. Individuals experiencing mental health issues are deserving of this type of respect and support with dignity as they navigate managing symptoms and gaining the life skills needed to function independently in the community.
Fay’s ability to maintain housing is dependent on her willingness to engage in supportive services for her mental and physical issues. Fay’s positive decision about her housing was the first of many steps Fay takes to improve her quality of life and reach her self determined goals.
Fay has experienced challenges along the way, though today, 72-year-old Fay is doing extremely well. She lives in the same apartment she moved into in 2010. Fay’s success demonstrates that with the right support, structure, and consistency, recovery is possible. “I saw Fay the other day and she asked me how her hair looked,” CEO Tod Lipka shared. “At first, I didn’t recognize this was Fay. ‘You look beautiful,’ I told her. And she did. She really did.”
In Los Angeles County on any given night in 2017, 57,000 people find themselves without a home. The encampments and makeshift shelters are no longer hidden by freeways. There are just too many now to be out of sight. The encampments stretch for blocks across different parts of the county. Approximately 30% of the individuals living on the streets of our neighborhoods have a diagnosed mental health issue. Many others have chronic health conditions and substance abuse conditions that also prevent them from remaining stable in housing without proper supports in place from a caring community of providers.
In the next two years, Step Up staff will successfully house 1,000 people who share Fay’s story. The journey to recovery is long and takes patience, dedication and a focused commitment from staff.