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Marjorie Shore Puts a Face to Affordable Housing

Operating in relative anonymity, the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp. provides homes to those who need it most

Marjorie Shore is living proof that a bad enough series of events at the wrong time can threaten to send even the most competent and well educated among us tumbling into homelessness.

Shore, 86, earned her master’s degree in library science from UCLA at age 40, and for decades enjoyed a good career as an instructor and librarian. But one day she tried to lift a heavy piece of library equipment, and her career — and good health — came crashing down.

Through a series of misfortune, Shore nearly wound up homeless in Santa Barbara. But 13 years ago she found the cottage she still calls home on Castillo Street near Carrillo Street, thanks to a little-known safety net: the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp.

“It wasn’t in my plan, but I’m delighted to be here,” she said.

Founded in 1975, the Community Housing Corp. is a nonprofit organization that, over the years, has rescued many people from the scourge of homelessness and prevented others from getting there.

There are several assistance programs for the homeless in Santa Barbara. But unlike, for instance, Transition House, which provides temporary shelter to families while helping parents find employment, and unlike Casa Esperanza, the Cacique Street homeless shelter that often caters to a more transient population, the SBCHC offers permanent housing for low- and very low-income residents.

Some of its units are geared toward individuals with mental illness and addictions, others are meant for families, and still others are set aside for seniors. (The program for those with addictions is different than the rest in that it offers housing for only two years.)

To qualify, a family cannot make too much money. Residents pay on a sliding scale and must be able to function independently.

“A lot of families in Santa Barbara are doubling up — even with us,” said Emmet Hawkes, the corporation’s executive director. “You will have maybe three generations living in the same house: the grandma, mother and daughter. ... It’s hard to survive in Santa Barbara when you are making 10, 15 or 20 dollars an hour.”

Life took an unexpected turn for Marjorie Shore more than 20 years ago, before the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp. stepped in and offered her an affordable home of her own.
Life took an unexpected turn for Marjorie Shore more than 20 years ago, before the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp. stepped in and offered her an affordable home of her own. (Michelle J. Wong / Noozhawk photo)

The corporation’s best-known complex is the Faulding Hotel on East Haley Street, home to local characters such as Daniel Collier, who can often be seen shining the shoes of State Street revelers near the doorway of Joe’s Café. A black man with a gray beard, Collier is a fixture at Joe’s — so much so that a wall in the bar is adorned with a framed black-and-white photograph of him wearing his trademark fedora.

But unlike most local services for the homeless, the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp. has no central location. Rather, its 300 apartment units are scattered discretely throughout Santa Barbara County –– from Los Alamos to Carpinteria –– with many of its more than a dozen properties located in and around downtown Santa Barbara.

Shore is among the 32 residents in the corporation’s senior-housing program.

For those who enjoy the comforts of an upper-middle-class life, her tale is a reminder that we should never become too complacent.

Before attending UCLA, Shore lived as a homemaker, married to a physician. The couple had two boys, whom they raised in Pacific Palisades. But the marriage went sour, and Shore realized she’d have to fend for herself. Shore, who already held a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in math, enrolled at UCLA, and obtained a master’s in library science.

After years-long stints working at UCLA and in the Beverly Hills Unified School District, she landed a job as a teacher and librarian at Pacific Oaks College, an accredited graduate school for working adults that weaves into its curriculum a unique focus in social justice. It was during her third year at Pacific Oaks that her accident occurred.

Longtime Faulding Hotel resident Daniel Collier is such a fixture around the corner at Joe's Café that he's earned a prominent place on the restaurant's wall of fame.
Longtime Faulding Hotel resident Daniel Collier is such a fixture around the corner at Joe’s Café that he’s earned a prominent place on the restaurant’s wall of fame. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

One night, while teaching a research methodology class, Shore tried to lift an opaque projector from the top of a wheeled cart full of books, “and I did myself in.”

The students didn’t notice anything, but Shore finished the lecture in extreme pain.

“I remember leaning against the desk and just enduring until the class was over,” she said.

At age 62, Shore had crimped a nerve in her spine, “throwing out’’ her back. She had great difficulty sitting for long periods of time, and lifting books. On doctor’s orders, she remained bedridden for nine months.

“I was not getting better,” she said. “I was afraid I would lose the use of one leg.”

After the nine months of unfruitful bed rest, Shore underwent a major spine surgery called a laminectomy. It helped, but it would take five more years before she could go on a hike, a favorite pastime.

Shore qualified for disability pay. On the advice of a friend who worked as a psychologist, she decided she would move to the most nurturing city she knew: Santa Barbara.

When she first arrived, she was able to rent a tiny room in a house at a semi-reasonable rate. She also made a little extra spending cash by starting a half-time business called “Your Left-Brain Connection,” in which she helped writers conduct research.

Shore later moved into another house, which she inhabited for six years. But the arrangement eventually came to an end, and she had to move. By this time, the Santa Barbara rental market had changed dramatically. Shore could not find a place she could afford.

“I drove up the coast a bit to see if there was something less expensive,” she said.

But it was no use. The South Coast had priced her out.

“This was where my church was, where all my friends were,” she said.

Shore said she was concerned about being homeless, although she added that her grown children — who are scattered about the country — most likely would have come to her rescue if worse came to worst.

Luckily, it didn’t.

Shore’s desperation led her to the Santa Barbara Housing Authority office, which administers the subsidized Section-8 housing program. The office had nothing available for senior citizens, and referred her to the SBCHC, which was more accommodating.

“Someone was moving out and I qualified,” she said. When she saw the little cottage in the Castillo Homes development, Shore was thrilled.

“I was so grateful,” she said.

Thirteen years later, she still is.

“I am very happy with where I am,” she said.

Meanwhile, Collier’s life story is no less interesting.

In a past life, he said, he picked cotton with the aid of a mule on a farm in his native Arkansas. But he found himself out of a job in the early 1970s, when the farmer for whom he worked purchased modern farm equipment.

Collier hitchhiked west, ending up in Arizona for a time, and eventually landing in Santa Barbara 34 years ago. He lived at the now-shuttered California Hotel for a while, and moved into the Faulding Hotel 13 years ago. He has made a name for himself shining shoes.

“It’s not like it used to be,” he said. “Back in the day, women would make their man get a shoe shine.”

Collier said he’s known some hard times, but tries to take it in stride.

“Life is a teacher,” he said.

For both Shore and Collier — and many, many more — despite the soaring housing prices, unfortunate circumstances and changing times that can leave some behind, Santa Barbara has again found a way to be what Shore calls a nurturing city. And without the help of the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corp., that might not have been so.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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