Cassandra was never happier to see plastic plates than on the day she moved into her apartment at Villa Serena, a newly renovated affordable community in San Marcos. While the 22-year-old had never given much thought to dishware before, now they were a symbol of her independence.  

“It’s really liberating,” Cassandra said. “I feel like my life is way more stable now. It makes me feel like I have more of a purpose, and it motivates me. I’m happy even to just clean because now if it’s a mess, at least it’s my mess.”                                                                            

Growing up, Cassandra was no stranger to chaos and instability. Her family moved to San Marcos from Los Angeles when she was 13, uprooting her from familiar places and people. Continued issues with her family left her intermittently homeless throughout her critical high school years. Her days were filled with the looming feeling that her life was not entirely hers.  In 2020, Cassandra was hospitalized after a life-threatening situation. It was through this incident that Cassandra learned about the State of California’s Transitional Age Youth (TAY) Program from a case worker while she was receiving treatment.   

“When I came out of the hospital my life was a mess,” Cassandra said. “When the case worker came to my door, I was reluctant at first. Little by little we developed a strong relationship – I don’t feel alone anymore.”  

The TAY program strives to prevent homelessness and secure and maintain housing for young adults by equipping them with the tools to live independently with vocational and educational development. Known as the hidden population, youth make up 12 percent of San Diego County’s unsheltered homeless population, with the unreported numbers likely much higher.   

Still, even with the guidance of her case worker, finding stable housing proved to be a challenge. For three years, Cassandra lived out of her boyfriend’s car, holding out hope for the day that she would be able to have a home of her own. In January 2023, her wish came true, and Cassandra received notice that she could move into a new home at Villa Serena.  

“Getting this apartment was the biggest stepping-stone I could ever get,” she said. “Now I have my own life. If I need to be somewhere I am there, if I need or want to do something, then I can go and no longer have to beg for my independence. “ 

Cassandra lives at one of eight apartment homes at Villa Serena set aside as supportive housing for young adults in the TAY program. The National CORE property management and Hope through Housing onsite team worked together to furnish the apartments and provide everyday items, like plates, to ease new residents’ transition into their homes. Now, Cassandra is a student at Palomar College, a community college within walking distance of Villa Serena.  

Cassandra now has the stability to focus on building a brighter future, with a short-term goal of pursuing a career as a dental hygienist and a long-term dream of earning her Ph.D. in psychology. With her new home and a strong support system, Cassandra feels as though she can finally get her life on track.  

Cassandra is grateful for the support she’s found at Villa Serena. She finds that the onsite team goes out of their way to assist her and her neighbors in any way that they can. In just a few short months, she has built a connection with the Community Manager, Llennifer Martinez, whom she says she can speak to like a friend.  

“Besides having my own place, the support that I get here is tremendous,” Cassandra said. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone, like I have help.”