Local man’s story featured in a new documentary about public housing

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer nancy@vcreporter.com

“A house is not a home,” or so the saying goes. But if you don’t have a stable, safe place of refuge to call your own, it’s hard to attach too much importance to that sentiment. According to a recent Ventura County Apartment Market Survey and Market Commentary (compiled by the Dyer Sheehan Group), a low 2.7 percent vacancy rate (5 percent is considered healthy) and rising rental rates (the average rent for an apartment in Ventura County increased by 8.4 percent in 2015) have spelled trouble for low earners in need of housing. With only about 25 percent of local households able to afford a median priced home, it’s no surprise that demand for housing has outpaced supply for years. Affordable housing is more important than ever. The documentary Our Journey Home focuses on the difficulties of trying to succeed when housing isn’t available . . . and on the way public housing assistance can build a ladder to success. Ventura resident Rosalio Galaviz is one of the people whose story is featured in the documentary. Growing up in the Westview Village housing project on Ventura’s Westside, he and his family found stability, space and hope — which eventually led to college and successful careers for Galaviz and all of his siblings. His experience is a powerful demonstration of the way public housing can change lives for the better. “Home is just so vital to our success and our growth as humans,” says producer Maribeth Romslo of Hello Sunshine Films. “Sometimes people need help and assistance — and that’s OK.” Our Journey Home (which was directed by Patrick Moreau of Stillmotion) explores the lives of people who have faced a housing crisis . . . and managed to right the ship through public housing assistance. It premiered in New York City last October, and has been touring nationwide. Hosted by the Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura, the documentary will screen in Ventura on Wednesday, April 20, at Century 10 Downtown, followed by a panel discussion with Galaviz, Housing Authority CEO Denise Wise, and Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney. The idea for the documentary came from a nonprofit initiative called ReThink: Why Housing Matters (developed by Housing Authority Insurance, Inc.), which aims to educate the public about the benefits of public housing. The goal was to challenge some of the commonly held perceptions about housing assistance and the people who use it. “The film was set up . . . to dispel negative preconceptions,” Romslo says, “that people in public housing are all drug dealers, or criminals, or lazy. But if you can show their stories — Rosalio and his mother, for example — [you see that] they’re really hard working.” Romslo and her team pursued a “deep discovery” into the world of public housing and the people who depend on it. They sent out questionnaires nationwide, reached out to public housing authorities directly, and amassed a street team of volunteers to do on-the-ground outreach. They spoke to people who were homeless and on waiting lists as well as those in public housing projects. “We tried to immerse ourselves in the issues and understand first,” Romslo says. Galaviz got on her radar when he turned in one of the production company’s questionnaires. “He grew up in public housing with a single mother. Through research we learned that many people who need public housing are single mothers and their families. So he represents a lot of people out there.” Galaviz was only two months old when a family tragedy forced his mother and siblings out of their Santa Paula home — and into uncertainty. In 1994, his father, a citrus ranch worker, was arrested for fatally shooting his brother during a heated squabble (in 1996 he would go to prison to serve a 20-years-to-life sentence). Shortly thereafter, the family was evicted, with no place to go. His mother, Maria Guadalupe Galaviz Diaz, found a one-room rental in Ventura on Ramona where the family could live for $450 a month — a small fortune for a woman who spoke no English and had five children to support. “We could barely make ends meet,” Galaviz recalls. It was better than being homeless. . . but just barely. “At this time, it was one of the most gang-infested streets on the Avenue,” Galaviz explains. Crime ruled the neighborhood, and it wasn’t safe. Maria signed up for public housing, waiting four long years before something became available. Eventually an opening came through, and the family moved into Westview Village, a low-income housing project. Their four-bedroom, two-bath apartment on Barnett Street was a far cry from where the family had eked out a living before. “It was a big difference,” Galaviz says. The space and stability of this apartment, and the resources made available to them through the city’s Housing Authority, were vital to his (and his siblings’) future success. Galaviz notes that the computer lab, tutoring services, free or subsidized swim lessons and group outings to places like Disneyland all had a positive impact. “My connection with the resources really helped me out,” he says. “The ones offered through public housing really helped people who were trying to get an education and succeed.” Galaviz and his siblings are proof of that. Today, all five Galaviz children have gone on to college and successful careers, and Rosalio himself — the baby of the family — will be receiving his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Northridge, in May, and entering the Ventura police academy in October. That lifelong dream to be a police officer was instilled in part by the cops Galaviz would see patrolling the streets of his childhood. “The police started making that area a lot better,” says Galaviz. “We have fewer gang members now than we had back in the day. The police made the community feel safer. And I’d see how they’d contribute to the community.” Officer Frank Padilla was one of those cops, and he left a strong impression on a young Galaviz. “He would work that beat, and he’d interact with the kids. He was something of a role model.” When Galaviz began working as a cadet (he describes it as similar to a law enforcement internship) in September he had the opportunity to work more closely with Padilla, who continues to be a positive influence. “Frank Padilla encouraged me to apply [to the police academy],” he adds. Romslo and Moreau worked with Galaviz for several months last year over the spring and summer and were able to film important events in his life: attending college classes, working as a security officer at a mall, and joining the cadet program with the Ventura Police. “We could follow him while he’s pursuing this dream, which was really special,” Romslo says. Galaviz’s story isn’t the only one featured in Our Journey Home. Byron Ellis overcame the stigma of “living in the projects” to become a doctor in Colorado. Sharice Davis faced homelessness on L.A.’s skid row before housing assistance got her and her children out of the shelters, and she eventually was able to purchase her own home. What connects these stories is the hope public housing provided to its residents, and how having a home gives people the tools they need to flourish. “I think that home is stability,” Romslo says. “Without a home it’s hard to thrive. If you’re at risk of getting evicted, or out on the street, it’s hard to have the safety, security and warmth we all need to rest, play and grow. . . . Home is a necessary component of who we are.” That’s why Galaviz feels public housing is so important: to make sure no one is denied that very basic need. “Public housing offers an opportunity for someone to change their life for the better, and live a life they always dreamed of,” he says. “Housing is a key factor for someone to reach their dreams.” Our Journey Home will be shown Wednesday, April 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Century 10 Downtown Theater, 555 E. Main St., Ventura. A panel discussion immediately follows. For more information on the film, go to www.rethinkhousing.org/our-journey-home. For tickets, go to https://tugg.com/events/93414.