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Housing Hangup

Can someone at HUD please answer the phone?


AFFORDABLE GROUSING Part of the battle to find permanent housing is getting housing officials to respond to phone calls.
  • AFFORDABLE GROUSING Part of the battle to find permanent housing is getting housing officials to respond to phone calls.

'You seem to be in good spirits."

I've been hearing this comment, or variations on it, as I call around to homeless shelters to find a place to live. "At least you've got a sense of humor" is another comment I get. It's a strange consolation for someone who needs a home as winter approaches. You can't laugh that off.

When I was recently, and abruptly, booted from the room I rented in Santa Rosa, I had to scramble for a place to go, and ended up in yet another short-term spot.

I haven't found anything that's affordable, so I am in the same place—even though it's long past time for me to vacate.

I knew I'd never find long-term housing in Sonoma County. Despite growing up here, I am not a winery scion or otherwise agriculturally enriched. I don't qualify for low-income housing, because my income is too low. But I was on a waiting list in Mendocino County, where I had lived for nine years, and, as far as I knew, was nearing the top and close to getting a Housing Choice Voucher from the feds.

I recently received a letter that asked me to confirm my ongoing interest in the program and was devastated to learn that, because I moved out of the area, I haven't been advancing up the list.

I started to call around to shelters. The people working at them know the best last-ditch solutions for the homeless. It serves their interests to help people stay housed, since demand at the shelters is so high.

Each shelter told me the same thing: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can make this right. You just need to talk to someone at the agency.

I have tried, but connecting with HUD has proved no less impossible than connecting with a safe, affordable apartment in Santa Rosa. First I tried to email the agency. It seemed easier to write everything down, in hopes it would make sense to the person who read it. The reply indicated that whatever read my email was not a person, since all I received was a list of other waiting lists.

So I wrote again, and left a message with HUD's San Francisco field office. In return, I got the same list of lists. Another call: no reply.

So I headed to HUD's "complaint portal," and complained. I was given a different phone number with the suggestion that I call it. That number led to an outgoing message that prohibited callers from leaving a message. It referred me instead to two extensions, each of which prompted me to leave a message, then disconnected the call when I tried to do so.

As far as I can make out, HUD is actually just a desk somewhere with no humans attached. I sent a barrage of tweets to HUD secretary Julián Castro, which netted me nothing.

I dearly want to unpack. Much of the trauma I felt when I was homeless 10 years ago stemmed from being unable to connect with my day-to-day self. I like to draw badly, do half-assed yoga, garden and cook weird food, but to live in someone else's space means my mere existence often feels like a violation. This is not how I envisioned middle age.

Now I'm waiting to hear back from someone who may know yet another phone number for HUD. Castro still hasn't responded to my Tweets.

I'm not holding my breath. I'll only be able to laugh about all this once it's well behind me.

Heather Seggel is a freelance writer. She is accepting housing leads at with gratitude.

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