January 18, 2012|
As he waits on the lobby sofa, Traci Cox is as unassuming in his black and khaki windbreaker as he is charming. Wise beyond his 17 years, his clean-cut looks, boyish grin, and hazel-green eyes reveal an innocence that’s almost deceiving. Appearances mislead as Traci’s story is one that is both heartbreaking and cathartic. There are many stories here in the Tenderloin but not all of them result in such perseverance and triumph. While leaning comfortably back into the cushions, he chats with the desk clerk. No one can suspect he was once homeless. He looks happy and smiles as he reaches out to greet me at the Ambassador entrance.
How Traci came to San Francisco and into the Ambassador is a convoluted and eventful journey. Growing up in a small Michigan town called Atlanta, both he and his mother left the comforts of a cozy, rural community for a new life in San Francisco. Such dreams and expectations unfortunately faded when Traci’s mother started using and became dependent on drugs. Eventually, they were homeless and moved around—often visiting shelters for food and a place to sleep.
In desperate attempts to survive hunger and destitution, Traci committed petty crimes to make money. This led the Department of Human Services (DHS) to place him in foster and group homes. Reflecting on his sense of isolation, Traci exclaims, “I felt like I was being punished. Not only was I being shifted from home to home, I was shifting from one school to another. It’s impossible to find stability while going into and out of ‘revolving doors’ so I went back to living on the streets.”
Such are the reasons that Frank, Traci’s legal guardian, took the chance and invited him into his life and home. He met the young man at a food shelter in Sacramento where he worked as a counselor. Traci recalls, “Frank listened and was someone I trusted. He also passed on food and blankets when they were desperately needed. He helped my mom and I many times.” With such genuine concern, it’s natural that Frank would agree to care for him permanently. Traci settled in Sacramento with his mentor and Sean, a youngster whom Frank also adopted, and moved from a one-room apartment to a house. Finally, Traci had the stable environment he longed for.
After Frank’s retirement, however, they couldn’t afford the high cost of rent. Upon returning home from visiting friends in San Francisco, Traci was shocked to discover the news. He utters, “I just couldn’t believe it. I came back and learned we had to move. That’s when Sean’s mother notified DHS to take him away to a foster home.” Shaking his head, he continues, “At that point, we had to make some decisions. We needed a place to stay but couldn’t afford to keep bidding on this apartment we wanted. That’s when I convinced Frank to come here.”
Changes for the Better
Finding a home and settling in San Francisco was a challenge. They migrated from one hotel to another looking for permanent and affordable housing. After staying at the Bristol for weeks, they finally got a room at the Ambassador. “It’s amazing how the Ambassador has changed,” Traci exclaims, “When we arrived, it was a dark and threatening place where drug dealers and local thugs handled their ‘business.’ After TNDC purchased it, it now contains a bright and happy community. I’m aware that I have a stable life and it feels great.”
As he spoke, a twinkle appears in his eyes. He has struggled with more issues in his young life than most people but his self-assurance is infectious. He is doing well and is planning to graduate from high school next year. It’s amazing how far he’s come in this odyssey of hope, sadness, heartbreak, and ultimately self-discovery and strength. Though his story is one among many, it’s proof that lives are changing for the better in the Tenderloin and people like Traci are succeeding.