As we head to our recent House of Peace (HOP) graduate’s home, I inform social worker Elisa Silva that we are going to Acosta Plaza on the east side of Salinas, also known as Alisal. She isn’t familiar with this area. Acosta Plaza, originally built as a condominium complex, became at some point in the past, one of the most dangerous places to live in Monterey County. But now I can inform her that this side of town is full of life and instilled with the will to thrive.
We get to Mr. Nava’s new apartment and he greets us with a smile. Of the many smiles he shared while a resident at HOP, this one seemed to be the most organic of them all. He asks us to come in and we notice he has no furniture, only a television on the floor and a small bed near it.
He offers us something to drink and provides a tour of his new home. Like always, clean. His room had a new bed provided by Central Coast Center for Independent Living (CCCIL) but he was not making use of it. I asked him why. He responded that he is still not ready to do so. That he is still trying to get used to the idea he is not at House of Peace anymore and he has his own place. He still can’t believe it. I thanked him for allowing us to meet with him today and began our interview.
Mr. Nava is a native of Salinas. He knows Acosta Plaza and its surroundings. He grew up here. He remembers all that upset that came with the just naming of “La Acosta Plaza”. He shares that since childhood, this has been the 1 st time he has ever experienced homelessness which came about because of marital problems. Due to his divorce, he ended up jumping from one location to another; even an automobile. Whatever provided a roof. Regardless of the situation, he continued to work but never enough to afford his own place.
I asked him why he never went to a warming shelter or why he never made use of the services provided in Salinas for those experiencing homelessness. Mr. Nava declared the services were out there, but “I was just too proud to make use of them. I knew they were there. I knew they were in Chinatown, but I just didn’t like it there. When I began looking into the services I ended up with you guys. But it all started with Project Roomkey. You guys were handling it.
“Before that, it was a nurse who guided me there. I remember one time I was in the hospital for a little thing I was experiencing. This was about a year before Project Roomkey and before I came into House of Peace. As I was admitted to the hospital, a nurse from the Health Department began to ask me what I was going to do after I was discharged and I had no answer but that I was homeless. That I had no place to stay or to go to. She kept my info and then around May of 2020, she called me and offered Project Roomkey, which provided temporary housing, and then I jumped to House of Peace. After six years of jumping from one place to another, I finally had a place to sleep and not have to worry.”
I ask Mr. Nava how he feels now that he has his own place and that he isn’t living at House of Peace anymore? “Man, I get here everyday and I love this. I get home and there is no one to tell me what to do.”
To which I ask with a chuckle if the comment is intended toward House of Peace? “It is.” he declares. “You guys have many rules. But I liked it there and I do admit that a lot of the rules were there to prepare me for this. To prepare me for my own place.”
I remind Mr. Nava that House of Peace waited two months on his referral and though we could have easily denied him entry to the program because he delayed so long, we also do not work that way. We felt he was worth investing the time and it did pay off. He has his own place now. I ask Mr. Nava if he feels more at peace. “I do. I do feel more at peace. My granddaughter will be visiting me soon from Yuma. I look forward to taking her out to places, now that they are opening to the public”.
I concluded by asking Mr. Nava, what advice would he offer to those experiencing the lack of housing, the same as he did? “I would say don’t give up man. Stick with it. I was lazy. I had the voucher twice and I could have done something the first time but I slacked it off. When I would be on top of it, I would spend all my money on applications and run out of money. This would take away a lot of my motivation. I should have been on it.
“But, just keep on going. These programs are not hard. They are not difficult. But at the end of the day you have to want it. You have to want to get your place and change. There are so many out there that don’t want to change. There are good people out there. People that deserve housing. It is time for them to realize it is time to stop and just focus on this. Make use of the services and throw away your pride.”
I asked if there was anything else he would like to add. “Thank you, House of Peace. Everyone at Dorothy’s Place. Thank you CCCIL.”
To outsiders, Salinas’ east side may also seem a difficult area to succeed in life. Nevertheless, for Gregory Nava, it is an opportunity to thrive and to relish his accomplishment and independence. The east side to him and many others, is life.
With love, respect and compassion, Dorothy’s Place provides essential services, transitional support and housing assistance to people experiencing the injustice of homelessness and extreme poverty.
Without your financial support, our work doesn’t happen. Join us! Stand with us as we assist people from street life to home life. Your solidarity is humbly and gratefully received.