By Frank Strauss

California is more than a home: It’s a community

Last month, well over 6.6 million people took that message to heart when they voted yes on Proposition 1, which will help fund affordable housing. I know firsthand just how this bill will help change lives and enrich communities.

I’ve lived in Santa Monica since 1970.

The seed was planted in summer 1968 during a summer visit to Los Angeles. I returned to Ohio to finish college, but unrest blew through my campus halls of Kent State University in 1970—and everything changed on May 4. With the National Guard everywhere and tear gas canisters flying, I left just before the Guard opened fire on the students. When I graduated, California called. And Santa Monica was the place to go to be around people who shared my values.

When my first wife and I unloaded our VW Microbus into our apartment—just off Pico—I was as certain as the ebb and flow of the tides that Santa Monica would be my home for a lifetime. But 46 years of good times and wrong turns found me in Culver City sitting in my old car, in front of a sad little duplex. My apartment had staggering floors, cracked, stained ceilings, and rotted doors and windows. My vision and my business were beginning to fail.

Fortunately, Santa Monica has been ahead of the curve for years when it comes to funding affordable housing. With decades of experience building and managing complexes that are home to those of modest means, the Community Corporation of Santa Monica is a shining example of how bond measures like Proposition 1 save the lives of people who are on the brink of homelessness. I remember the relief I felt when I heard on my vintage cell phone that I was chosen to move into CCSM’s Cloverfield property, and stay in the city where I have build my life.

I moved in alongside young families, people with disabilities, and other mature community members. Living someplace that was well-maintained, in the city I’ve always called home, gave me a long-lost sense of hope and security. I would not end up homeless after all. Everything seemed possible even if I was to go blind.

Where I live has become more life-sustaining and important than I ever imagined as my vision has continued to decline and deceive. I’ve had to close my hat-selling business, Fedora Primo, and find new ways to stay involved in our community. When the mom-and-pop grocer near me closed, I memorized the aisles at the Whole Foods 365 across the street. Now, I walk with a red and white ‘blind’ ID cane when I walk through nearby Virginia Avenue Park, smelling the charcoal barbecues and the fresh-cut grass and hearing the waterfall rhapsody of supercharged toddlers frolicking in the shooting streams of the “splash pad.”  

Years of memories remain: swaying to music at summer concerts on the pier, jogging for miles at low tide, biking along the ribbon of cement in the sand, feeling kinship with the dolphins, pelicans, sand sharks, stingrays, jellyfish and seals as I swam far beyond the breakers. My religion was the camaraderie of waiting for the sunset with strangers and neighbors, seagulls lining the shore while ‘mini pipers’ chased the tide. Knowing the beach when it was hot and crowded and when the cold air, rain, and wind erased all signs of human activity was what I lived for season after season. Now, I can share these memories in the place where they were made—part of our oral history.

Santa Monica’s commitment to affordable housing has saved me and countless others. As rapidly-rising housing prices threaten others with modest fortunes, Proposition 1 and similar measures are strengthening California’s communities and helping people and families who are on the brink of homelessness.

In the 50 years since I first got lost in our incredible city, I saw just how special our home is. Though the Pacific Ocean has become little more than a gray void as I search for the horizon, but I clearly see how our commitment to community is what makes Santa Monica so incredible.

Frank Strauss is a Community Corp resident and member of the Community Corp resident council.

 

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