One man’s lonely journey through California’s plan to end homelessness

As the number of homeless Californians swell, the state is spending unprecedented dollars to build tens of thousands of housing units for people living in shelters, vehicles and encampments.
CalMatters detailed the experience of Fernando Maya, a chronically homeless man who left the streets of Los Angeles in 2020 and landed in one of those new units.

Related: Five challenges in expanding California’s permanent supportive housing — and potential solutions

SACRAMENTO – By the lone tent under the cement overpass, just visible from the Hollywood Freeway, Fernando Maya waited with several backpacks stuffed with clothes, electronics and food.

Once a constant roar of traffic below his makeshift home, the freeway stood empty in the waning days of spring 2020 as the first wave of coronavirus tore through California. Here, occasional cars whipped up gusts of wind, their whistles morphing into the voices of people he had let down.

A car pulled up alongside a chain link fence that separated a service road from Maya’s camp. He hadn’t taken down his tent, raised from the dirt by a wood pallet to let rats pass. He was leaving and he didn’t know how long he’d be gone.

Maya slid into the back seat, his mind spinning with doubts. At 6-feet-1, the 56-year-old brimmed with an energy that could swing from charming to intimidating. When agitated, he slung his words faster, then harder.

“I don’t want to go anywhere where there’s a curfew,” Maya said to the driver, Jorge Soria, his case worker. “I don’t need the headache of having to follow directions.”

“You’re getting a good place, but it’s not like a free-for-all,” Soria recalls saying as he pulled the car forward.

Fernando Maya under the overpass where he lived in a tent off of the 101 Freeway and Alameda Street in Los Angeles on Nov. 17, 2021. (Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./CalMatters)

California’s pandemic response marked the start of Maya’s journey indoors. Through Project Roomkey, the statewide effort to take vulnerable and elderly people off the street, he was given the keys to a hotel room of his own that June. Later, Maya would credit the program — and Gov. Gavin Newsom — with having ended his homelessness.

Text messages from Fernando Maya