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Step Up | Fay’s Story
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Fay’s Story
Fay’s Story

Fay: 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.

An Important Message from Step Up

Dear Supporters, Volunteers and Trusted Community Partners,

We wanted to take a moment to let you know Step Up is actively monitoring the COVID-19 status in the communities we work. We are relieved to report that as of this writing, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in the Step Up Community. Step Up is taking measures to both protect employees' health and welfare, and to advance its critical mission to serve its most at-risk members. During this time, members will continue to need our support and we expect to continue to provide the exemplary level of support and services we have become known for in our community.

In an abundance of caution, Step Up is taking the following immediate steps to curtail the spread of the virus and to keep its staff, members and volunteers as safe and as healthy as possible during this period of unknown impact:

  • All volunteer activities at all sites are halted for a minimum of two weeks.
  • Managers are empowered to work with staff to curtail activities that may put them or members at risk. This includes the possibility of remote work when feasible, phone or telehealth meetings with members as necessary, avoiding transporting members in personal or company vehicles - the advancement of our mission is paramount;
  • Program staff will be trained on how to utilize company phone apps to effectively communicate with members and each other as necessary;
  • We have asked staff if they or an immediate family member is experiencing flu-like symptoms, to not report to any office location, contact their manager on how to proceed, and seek medical attention immediately.

While many public and private spaces have curtailed operations for the time being, Step Up will remain operational and will continue serving its clients. Again, it is important to note that NO ONE IN THE STEP UP COMMUNITY HAS TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19. Our goal is to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Please contact us by email or phone before coming to one of our locations. Support from our community is especially vital now as operations are re-aligned to adhere to our mission while keeping staff, members and volunteers safe. Please consider making a donation as we work through this difficult time. Your contributions in any amount ensure that Step Up will continue serving our most vulnerable neighbors, who are especially vulnerable during this community health crisis. Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have.

Stay safe and healthy,
Tod Lipka
President & CEO