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From Homeless to Distinguished Scholar



When she began receiving Federal rental assistance 20 years ago, Heidi was a homeless, pregnant teen.

“By the age of 23, I had two children under the age of 3,” she said. “I was a single mother on welfare, food stamps and Medi-Cal. I fit every stereotype about housing assistance recipients.”

On June 17, 2016, Heidi graduated with a doctorate degree in sociology from UC San Diego.

She is pursuing her goal of becoming a professor—teaching two courses this fall as a temporary lecturer at UC San Diego and serving as a faculty intern at MiraCosta College.

Heidi said her accomplishments were made possible by the Federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance she received from the San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC).

Heidi’s path to multiple college degrees – and financial self-reliance – started nearly 12 years ago.

Wanting a better future for her family, Heidi decided to go back to school.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Justice Studies from California State University, San Marcos, and a master’s degree in sociology from UC San Diego before starting on her Ph.D.

“There is absolutely no way that I would have had the opportunity to go to school if I didn’t have my rent subsidized,” she said.

Heidi’s pursuit of self-reliance also led her in 2012 to the SDHC Achievement Academy, a state-of-the-art learning and resource center and computer lab with programs that emphasize career planning, job skills and personal financial education—at no cost to HCV participants and public housing residents.

Through the SDHC Achievement Academy’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS), participants are able to earn money in an interest-bearing escrow account based upon their educational and employment-related accomplishments.

By participating in the FSS program, Heidi earned $33,000 in her escrow account.

With the help of HCV rental assistance, the SDHC Achievement Academy and the FSS program, Heidi is preparing for the next transition in her life.

“I don’t know where my story ends,” she said. “I will be able to use that money that I got from the FSS program to purchase my first home and phase out of housing assistance.”

Heidi thanks the staff from the SDHC Achievement Academy and Rental Assistance Division, who helped her learn about the opportunities for help that were available to her.

“I always felt like I had someone in my corner, someone who supported me and wanted me to be successful,” she said.

Heidi said her success has allowed her to break the cycle of homelessness in her family.

“I know my children will never have to experience homelessness like I did, and that gives me great peace of mind,” she said.

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