Finding housing after Santa Rita Jail – during COVID-19

For the last few weeks we’ve been tracking the story of what it’s like to get out of Santa Rita Jail during the pandemic. In Part 3 of this series, we follow Darryl Geyer as he tries to find stable housing – and is forced to do so multiple times. 


May 21, 2020 – Darryl Geyer was released from Santa Rita Jail back in April.

“It was pretty, pretty terrible,” he says. “And I’m not overstating any of it.”

Now, he’s trying to get back on his feet, and that means finding housing, in the Bay Area – in the middle of a pandemic. And not once, but several times.

First he needs to find somewhere to land right after getting released. Darryl doesn’t have anywhere lined up.

But, thanks to hours of phone wrangling from an attorney, he gets connected to All of us or None, a grassroots organization that spent tens of thousands of dollars on motel vouchers for people like Darryl who are released from jails and prisons during the pandemic. So Darryl’s first stop is at the Quality Inn in Oakland.

And then: Darryl comes down with COVID-19 symptoms. He tests positive and quarantines himself at the motel.

“Initially it was like a really bad headache,” he says. “And then I developed that dry cough and body aches, which were so horrible.”

“I’ve been sustaining myself on this little continental breakfast every morning, and that has pretty much been it.”

He has no money. “Basically I’ve been sustaining myself on this little continental breakfast every morning, and that has pretty much been it,” he says. “I’ll have a cup of coffee and some little pastries, and that is my meal throughout the day.”

He has no transportation. ”I’m semi-stranded as well,” he says. “I’m way out by the Coliseum [with] no funds for BART, no funds for any other transportation. So I’m basically stuck out here.”

And, there’s a looming deadline. Darryl’s time at the Quality Inn is running out. Alameda County is leasing the motel as part of Project Roomkey, the county’s isolation housing program for unhoused people. So everyone had to be out by April 30th.

The Alameda County Probation Department reaches out to the last remaining motel residents like Darryl. “Probation – we took over responsibility for placing the individuals that were at the hotel,” says Chief Probation Officer Wendy Stills.

Darryl says a probation officer had directed him to Operation Comfort, which is part of Project Roomkey. He says he completed the intake interview, but didn’t get a spot.

“When the issue of my, my conviction came [they] were like, ‘Oh, well, we’re very sorry. We can’t house you through our services because of your conviction,” he says. “Two days and then, I mean, I’m in a doorway somewhere. So, you know, it’s scary. I don’t want to end up on the street. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of days.”

“It’s scary. I don’t want to end up on the street. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of days.”

When asked about Darryl’s situation, Chief Probation Officer Wendy Stills says she’d look into it. The next day, which the day before Darryl has to leave the Quality Inn, he gets a flurry of calls, including from someone with Project Comfort.

“They wanted permission for the test results,” he says. “So maybe they’re gonna re-accept me.”

In a reversal, Darryl gets into Operation Comfort. “I guess they were using archaic paperwork and [they] apologized profusely about me being turned away,” he says.

It’s not totally clear what happened, but Chief Wendy Stills later confirmed that the State Parole, the Probation Department, and the Public Defender’s office all coordinated behind the scenes on Darryl’s case. Alameda County spokesperson Jerri Randrup said via email that as a policy, people are not denied entry into Operation Comfort for criminal history because it’s not checked as part of the intake process.

So Darryl moves into his next stop, Operation Comfort, which is at the Comfort Inn, right next door to where he was staying. He says the staff are treating residents well. He gets a part time job working remotely for a law office. He signs up for food stamps. And adjusts to life in the motel.

“They have some rules,” he says. “You gotta wear a mask all the time. They pretty much make you stay in your room all day. But we get three breaks when we get to go outside… It’s almost like being in a really comfortable prison or a prison with carpeting. Cause I look out the window, and there’s guards walking the perimeter.”

“They come around twice a day and do our temperatures,” he continues, noting that his symptoms are improving. “I haven’t had a temperature in what, like four days, five days. And the body aches are almost gone. So I think I’m past the worst part of it.”

But still, this place isn’t a permanent solution. A week and a half after he arrives, he gets a notice saying he has to leave.

“So I woke up this morning with this, and it’s not just me, it was a whole bunch of us, with this sign on our door.”

Darryl’s 72-hour notice reads:

Congratulations! You have completed your stay at Operation Comfort. Now that you’re healthy again, it is time to help you transition back to the community. This is a formal 72-hour notice that you will be exited on 5/14/20 by 2pm. After 2pm on 5/14/20, all meals, cigarettes and alcohol will be withheld, and the Oakland police department will be notified that you are trespassing.

“I was like, wow, that’s a real nice way to say get out,” he says.

Via email, county spokesperson Jerri Randrup stated, “The majority of our clients leave as agreed and no one has been removed forcefully.”

So once again, Darryl has just a few days to figure out where he’s going next. He doesn’t have any housing leads, and he doesn’t want to stay at a shelter.

“I can’t work from there,” he says. “I can’t do anything from there. You know what I mean? … And the door opens at like six in the morning. They kick you out in the street. And you come back to like eight o’clock at night.”

Remember, Darryl’s just got a job that’s earning him some much-needed money. It requires answering phones and sometimes being on the computer – not easy to do without somewhere indoors, especially during shelter in place, when libraries and coffee shops are closed.

According to the county, only about two-thirds of the 522 rooms leased for Project Roomkey are occupied as of May 18.

And so, for the third time since getting out of Santa Rita, Darryl scrambles to find a place to go.

“I called and emailed and texted, you know, probably 20 or 25 different agencies all over the Bay area, asking for housing help,” he says. “And basically all of them are referring me to the congregate shelters. Those are pretty much the only alternatives right now, which is a little disheartening.”

Luckily, he was able to stay at a friend’s house for a couple days. When I check back in, Darryl says that one of the organizations he reached out to, Roots Clinic, finally got back to him and offered him a spot in one of the FEMA trailers as part of an Oakland city program called Operation HomeBase.

“I had to go today over on Hegenberger where they have all the trailers, [do] another intake,” he says. “And I was accepted on the spot. It’s rent free for six months. It’s free meals. So the opportunity to work and save money is ideal.”

Darryl says he wants to save up money to get himself an apartment. But that might take a few months.

“It’s hard because I wanna get back out there and get three jobs again and make money and live my life. And  it’s just hard because I have to keep worrying about where I’m going to be, who I have to end up paying for rent, how am I going to save money here?”

And moving all the time creates more challenges.

“Changing my address every 15 days has been hard because I have to sign up for my stimulus check, I have to do this, do that,” he says. “And if my address keeps changing, then I have to remember to go back and change my address with all these different places that are mailing me things. And then notifying parole that I’m moving here and there and everywhere. It’s difficult.”

To recap. Darryl gets out of Santa Rita. He gets into a motel thanks to an organization spending tens of thousands of its own dollars. Then, according to Darryl, because of an error, he was nearly rejected from a county program designed to house people exactly like him. He gets a 72-hour notice to leave from there, where the only housing option he’s offered is for shelters where he can’t properly do his job. He has to rely on a friend for housing to not end up on the streets. Finally, he gets a spot in a trailer in a city program – but only because he took the initiative to find and contact a referring organization directly.

Darryl knows he’s lucky. He’s got a lot more support and know-how than many other people in his situation. But even so, it’s been a struggle for him to find housing.

“Once you fall so far down, it’s clearly hard to get yourself back up.”

“Once you fall so far down, it’s clearly hard to get yourself back up,” he says. “And you know, I definitely don’t want to go this low again because there’s like this plateau that you reach. And once you go below it, it’s almost impossible unless you have really good talking skills and you can talk people into doing what you want. Or you haven’t burned all of your bridges, and you have people that still care about you, that are willing to put themselves out there for you. Unless you have either of those two, I mean, you’re destined to end up in a tent or under a bridge.”

Lucy Kang is a reporter with KPFA. Follow her on Twitter at @ThisIsLucyKang.

That was the third and final installment of our series on what it’s like to get released from Santa Rita Jail during the pandemic.

Listen to Part 1 of Darryl Geyer’s story

Listen to Part 2 of Darryl Geyer’s story