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Tipline Investigation: Gina’s journey out of homelessness and reuniting her family

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In October, we introduced you to Gina Quiroz. She’s been homeless for almost six years. But, she’s putting her life back together with the ultimate goal of reuniting with her two children.

“Our tent used to be over there. But, we woke up in the middle of the night, the wall of mud had slid down,” said Quiroz as she described what it was like living in a homeless camp along Highway 101 in Santa Barbara during January’s big winter storms.

“I’m exhausted. This is one of the downfalls of being homeless. I’ll be lucky to get out of this alive, but we’ve been taking on water since last night,” said Quiroz.

She said she was up 24 hours digging trenches, trying to save her camp. Many of her things washed away. Everything else was ruined, buried under two feet of mud.

“Okay, I admit it, I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to worry about my makeup or hair today. I’m soaking wet but I’m not cold because we just keep movin,” said Quiroz in selfie video taken during the storm.

Within hours of shooting this video, and running on no sleep, Gina had to keep going. 

"I had to go to work with wet shoes and wet feet and in the rain and it was really tough. But, I did it,” said Quiroz.

She said her employer is very understanding. 

Complicating her life even more, the car she bought to get to work was impounded by police. She’s riding a bike now.

“It’s really, really a hard life on the street. So, it’s one of those things, it’s either going to make you or break you. And I like to think this whole experience, I have broken once. I won’t let it happen to me again, it’s making me,” said Quiroz.

We first met Gina a year ago. A program called CityNet put her in housing until she could find a permanent place to live. But, the program ended abruptly, giving her just days to get out.

“They place us indoors where we got acclimated to being somewhat normal and functioning and now we’re being thrown back out on the street. It breaks my heart,” said Quiroz during our first interview in her temporary apartment back in February, 2022.

Within 24 hours, she was homeless again.

“So, I’m spending my first night back out on the street. And it is really cold. I’m not used to this anymore. I’m really cold,” said Quiroz in a 2022 selfie video taken the night she was dropped off near a homeless encampment along the freeway.

Gina grew up in Goleta, had a career as a logistics manager for a large corporation. She was married with a house and two kids. 

But everything fell apart. She survived a physically and mentally abusive relationship. He ended up in jail, she turned to drugs and alcohol to numb years of trauma. They divorced and their two children ended up in foster care.

“I’ve apologized to them for my part and why they were taken away. The main reason I did that, I don’t want them to feel it was because of them,” said Quiroz.

Her sobriety started at Cottage Hospital. She went into a domestic violence program and received psychological help. She’s been sober since February 17th, 2020.

Her goal now? reuniting with her kids.

“I know for a fact that the courts will not release her children back to her until she has housing. But here’s the Catch-22, so if you’re applying for housing she doesn’t have her children yet. So, how do you apply for children who are still in the foster care system?” said Heike Hyson.

Hyson works for Americorps. She first met Gina at a homeless camp more than two years ago and she’s been helping her through the bureaucratic maze ever since.

The magic ticket is getting a housing voucher from Santa Barbara County and that’s not easy. Without it, reuniting with her kids is impossible.

“Okay, I just got out of my briefing. And I got my housing voucher, I got the housing voucher. I can’t believe it. It was a lot of hard work. I have it. Praise God,” said Quiroz as she got emotional.

“They handed me a voucher and it had my name on it. I got very emotional about it because it’s reunification with my kids and that’s everything to me,” said Quiroz.

She’s approved for a one bedroom apartment for now. It gets her off the street and it’s a huge step forward to getting her kids back through the court.

“And then I’ll file to get custody of the kids. At that time, they’ll amend my voucher from a one bedroom to a 3 bedroom because of the age of my children,” said Quiroz.

When that happens, it’ll be the first time in 4 years her family is back together again and it will be their home.

“And then I’ll have you over for dinner,” said Quiroz as she laughed.

We just received an update from Gina. She's applied to 7 one-bedroom apartments and is waiting to find out if she's accepted at one of them. If you or someone you know can help Quiroz and her children reunite, call our News Channel Tipline at 805-882-3903.

Article Topic Follows: News Channel 3 Investigates

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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT News Channel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here


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