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Tipline Investigation: Gina’s Journey, a homeless woman’s pursuit to reunite her family

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Have you ever looked at someone who’s homeless and asked, How did they end up there? Was it something they did? Are they doing anything to change their situation?

Gina’s journey is just one story that answers those questions. We've followed her for nine months as she tries to reunite her family. She’s doing everything society would want, but she’s still living on the street.

“I don’t understand it, I don’t think I ever will,” said Gina Quiroz as she hiked up a hill to her homeless camp along Highway 101 in Santa Barbara.

Gina Quiroz was born in Goleta, grew up here, had a career as a logistics manager for a large corporation, went from a proud homeowner, to divorced, homeless, temporarily housed and back to homeless again.

She admits she used alcohol, heroin and meth to numb years of trauma and PTSD. She survived a physically and mentally abusive relationship. 

He ended up in jail multiple times, Quiroz ended up in the hospital. Her children, both teenagers, are 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 road to sobriety began while she was in Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. She started getting psychological help, she went into a domestic violence program and she’s been clean and sober since February 17th, 2020.

“My kids, that’s the only thing I want in my life right now, are my children. And in order to get them back I need permanent housing,” said Quiroz.

Until that happens, the court allows Quiroz to see her son and daughter twice a month. Plus, she has an advocate.

“One of the things that totally impressed me about her is, I looked at her and said ‘You are wearing makeup.’ So she never lost her pride,” said Heike Hyson.

Heike Hyson, who works for Americorps, first met Quiroz while doing outreach at a homeless camp along Highway 101 almost two years ago.

“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?” asked Hyson.

Quiroz says things started looking up when a program called CityNet put her in housing with a promise that it was temporary until she found permanent housing. 

“I love to cook, I love to cook,” said Quiroz as she gave us a tour of her apartment.

She finally had a kitchen again and a warm bed at night.

“I start to get stressed out, I color and I feel so much better afterward,” said Quiroz as she showed us some of her art work.

Then, in October, 2021 even better news, the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County notified Quiroz she was authorized to search for housing under the Emergency Housing Voucher program. 

She started looking for a rental big enough for her and her two kids. But just six weeks later, the county revoked her authorization claiming there were no more vouchers left.

“I really don’t know why she lost that. I don’t know procedurally what happened that she lost that,” said Hyson.

About two months later, Quiroz said CityNet gave her just five days' notice to leave her apartment. The program had run out of money.

“They place us indoors where we got re-acclimated to being somewhat normal and functioning and now we’re being thrown back out on the street. It breaks my heart,” said Quiroz.

Within 24 hours, she was homeless again.

We met her near her old campsite along Highway 101. It was a cold February night with temperatures in the 30’s.

“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.

Near the end of summer, Quiroz invited us to her campsite.

“I really just stick to here because it’s safe,” said Quiroz.

She has a tent, gas stove and enough shade.

“Having this little flower arrangement on this table right here. It’s like a little piece of home,” said Quiroz.

Quiroz is also back on the list for emergency housing. She has a job and she bought a car.

“It shows that there’s a lot of growth on my part. It also helps with my PTSD. I don’t have time to sit here and think about the negatives. I’m interacting with people who are very nice. It’s a pleasure for me to get up and go to work. It gives me purpose,” said Quiroz.

Gina’s updates, though, show how difficult life is on the street.

“I have poison oak all over my face and all over my body,” described Quiroz in a cell phone video sent to News Channel 3.

Despite all of the setbacks, Hyson says the fact that Quiroz is still homeless at this point is not Quiroz’s fault.

“I honestly believe that the different agencies and organizations that are involved in homelessness, they all have the best intentions, but the lack of training and the lack of resources kinda put everybody in a tailspin,” said Hyson.

However, Quiroz knows she has people who believe in her and more importantly, she believes in herself.

“I love it. My kids, for them to tell me, ‘Mom we’re so proud of you’ it means a lot,” said Quiroz.

All Quiroz and her two children are waiting for at this point is for a landlord with a place big enough for all three of them to accept the housing voucher.

Among Quiroz’s accomplishments, she’s certified to be a counselor for Domestic Violence Solutions and she was awarded a scholarship from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

We will continue to follow Gina’s Journey.

CityNet and the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County told News Channel 3, they cannot comment specifically on Quiroz or any individual's case. However, they did send us written statements for this story.

Here's the statement from the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County:

The situation you described to me yesterday certainly does reflect real difficulties obtaining housing. 

The system of care is successful in assisting over 200 individuals and families connect to permanent housing each quarter (3 months). Yet, there are 1958  households (well over 1000 that have a permanent disabling condition,) that have completed a housing assessment are engaged with services and are still unhoused on a list waiting for a housing opportunity. 

There are always limited resources. Case managers and participants have found it extremely difficult to identify rental units since the rental market tightened in July 2021 and rents have continued to soar. We need property owners and managers to step up and make units available to partner with providers and persons like Gina to end their homelessness. A rental unit is what will make the difference in this case! 

Generally, more persons are presenting as homeless for the first time and it is harder than ever to find affordable housing. Our service providers work tirelessly to find housing and match each person’s experiencing homelessness to services to support that transition.

Susan Klein-Rothschild - Santa Barbara County Housing and Community Development

And CityNet sent us this statement for the story:

“In this situation, as in all our client engagements, we do our best to meet clients where they are at, to provide any support that we possibly can as well as to offer available shelter and housing options. Unfortunately, the multiple options provided thus far have not met the client’s priorities and highlight the need for a more diversified system of care. We hope her story inspires and helps us all advocate further for more viable, non-congregate shelter options locally – especially for women and children currently experiencing homelessness today on our streets.”  

Brad Fieldhouse, City Net Executive Director

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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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