SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Over the years, like many people, Mickey Kmieciak has seen homeless people and sometimes wondered how did they end up there. But now that she's just days away from being homeless, the question terrifies her.
She had nowhere else to turn, so she called the NewsChannel 3 Tipline for help.
Kmieciak lives in a small, upstairs apartment near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. She gave NewsChannel 3 a tour of her quaint place, telling stories about the knickknacks that are crammed in every corner and the dozens of old photos that line the walls. Her one-bedroom rental has been her home for the last 12 years, but time is running out.
In April, the landlord asked Kmieciak to move out so his 94-year-old mother could move in.
"I panicked because I didn't have any money," said Kmieciak as she described the moment she first saw the eviction notice.
Complicating matters, Kmieciak has a medical condition, no family besides her two dogs, Twiggy and Tula, and she gets Section 8 housing assistance.
"If I do find something and as soon as I mention HUD (Housing and Urban Development), they don't want anything to do with a third party. They've had a bad experience, or they just say no," said Kmieciak.
As she quickly discovered, it's a horrible time to be looking for an apartment in Santa Barbara, not just for Section 8 housing, but for everyone.
"The market is actually quite tough at this time. We're in a very tight rental market, and we have a less than 1 percent vacancy rate," said Veronica Loza, who is director of housing programs for the city of Santa Barbara.
Loza pointed NewsChannel 3 to one resource, a website called gosection8.com, where landlords post their rentals. Only a few offered rent low enough for Kmieciak's allotted $1,447 a month, and none of them allowed pets.
"I think Mickey's situation is really no different than any of our other clients, but speaking of her case, she does have two pets, and she has the payment standard that's allowed for her bedroom size, which might be lower than the open market rents right now," said Loza.
That's why after almost five months of searching, Kmieciak has found nothing, and her landlord is now evicting her.
"I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, and I ended up in the hospital twice in April," said Kmieciak as she talked about the first few months of her apartment search.
The doctors told her the stress and anxiety are taking a toll on her.
Kmieciak and her dogs are just days away from being homeless. She's lived in Santa Barbara for 60 years, at times working as a waitress at Joe's Cafe, Arnoldi's, Carl's Steakhouse and others. Now, she's afraid she'll be living on the street and someone will recognize her.
"I fear being hurt, really. I fear that somebody's going to see me and say, 'She deserves to be put out of her misery,' and that's what I fear," said Kmieciak.
And they might ask: How did she end up there?
Kmieciak's was in court Friday morning, but lost an effort to fight her eviction. She was also told by a potential landlord today her pending eviction will make it even more difficult to find a new rental unit.
Those who know of any available places willing to accept a tenant with an eviction, Section 8 and two dogs can call the NewsChannel 3 Tipline at 805-882-3903.