It has been a long journey for Janae Taj. It’s taken her from months of living on the streets, to multiple hospitalizations for mental health issues, to living in room and board housing, to finally getting her own apartment and the independence that goes with it.
What kept her going? “The determination to find a place to lay my head down and properly take care of myself and be myself,” she said. “It was a battle.”
Taj, 28, was among Sacramento County’s homeless population, which numbers more than 5,500 people on any given night, according to the 2019 annual count by Sacramento Steps Forward. But she was one of the lucky ones, finding the help she needed to begin turning her life around.
Taj’s road to recovery began last February when Sacramento County linked her to Telecare ARISE, a County partner and provider of supportive behavioral-health services, said program administrator Danielle Wirtz.
As a first step, Telecare arranged to move Taj into room and board housing. “We look to get as many folks off the street as we can; it’s definitely a passion of ours,” said Wirtz.
Telecare managers also navigated community resources for Taj and linked her to a payee service, which helped manage her funds and coached her on budgeting.
But her first housing situation hit a bump after six weeks, when Taj told Telecare her living conditions were intolerable, with “four to five people sleeping in the same room, and (irregular meal service),” Wirtz said.
Finding alternative housing was challenging, however; Taj is a transgender woman, and “some people are not comfortable with that,” she said. “So Telecare had a hard time placing me because of my identity.”
Fortunately, she qualified for a housing unit through Mercy Housing, a national nonprofit group specializing in transforming former motels and hotels into housing for the homeless.
In this case, Sacramento County collaborated with Mercy Housing to transform a formerly crime-ridden hotel, a long term blight to the community – into housing.
On June 4, Taj was handed the key to her own apartment, which Telecare helped furnish. “She’s living independently now, which is huge,” said Wirtz.
Taj’s new goal is to “find employment and get myself back into the world,” she said.
What advice does she have for others? “If somebody offers you help, take it and go forward. Don’t procrastinate. You have to be active and motivate yourself to function on a daily basis.”
For more information on Sacramento County’s Response to Homelessness, visit our website