Homelessness is Everyone's Responsibility: An Interview with Gus Truslow at The Haven

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

By Mahima Reddy and Jeannie Taylor

1. What brought you to Charlottesville?: “I grew up in Charlottesville, and also went to UVa. I studied public policy and art history.”

2. What is your role at The Haven?: “The title is Shift Supervisor. I primarily sit at the desk and answer calls— I’m people’s first point of contact in The Haven for towels, detergent, help with unemployment, I schedule intakes for housing, and help Fran in the kitchen when she needs it.”

3. Why did you get involved with The Haven?: “I’ve always been interested in issues with inequity and justice, and the homeless community. I took a class on affordable housing in Charlottesville, and learned about The Haven. I got involved because I was unemployed and Fran was going into work from 6am-3pm every day. I volunteered at PHAR [Public Housing Association of Residents] before and thought my previous experience would be helpful as a volunteer or staff member at The Haven." 

Jeannie:What is PHAR? “For every housing authority there has to be a resident advisory group and council, in order to raise complaints and organize for the residents. PHAR takes on an expanded role in advocating for public housing more generally than specific client complaints.” 

4. What are your 3 favorite hobbies?: “I like to work around my house, read, and I like to play sports.” 

5. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?: “I just roll right out of bed, and brush my teeth and go to work” 

6. What is a good habit you have developed and hope to maintain post quarantine?: “Prior to COVID, I had less social contact, because my job was being a care provider for a man with Down syndrome. In that role I kind of grew more into myself and became more withdrawn. Now at The Haven, I have more opportunities to be with people, which has helped me get better with giving people more of the benefit of the doubt.” 

7. What is one thing you wish you could have told your college age self?: “Continue to care about things, but don’t be a perfectionist because perfectionism is the enemy of progress.”

8. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned working here?: “The Haven has given me a reminder of how arbitrary everyone's life situation is to a degree, and how easy it is for any of us to be put in very vulnerable situations. What has been surprising is recognizing how high the risk of homelessness is and how dire the situation is, even for people who are housed right now.”

9. What is a misconception people have about homelessness or homeless individuals?: “I think that there are a lot [of misconceptions]. I think one misconception is that people bring it upon themselves, and there are generalizations of one single homeless perspective. People think less of homeless people, and since working at The Haven, I have found that I meet more disturbing people in my general life than I do at The Haven. I think people can be coming from any situation, and people don’t often take the time to recognize that.”

10. Do you have any comments or thoughts you would like to share regarding housing inequality in Charlottesville? If so, what have been your experiences/observations?: “There is massive housing inequality in Charlottesville. Having grown up here, and not knowing about the degree of inequality and historical racism in our community until I was in college disturbed me. Especially considering Charlottesville as a ‘progressive’ town, and the reality of housing inequality is so systemic. Many residents of the established class neglect and ignore the issue. For housing to be more affordable, there needs to be more of it, and people have to be willing to live with a homeless individual in their building, or at least near their communities. People think that (affordability is associated with) increased crime, and biases like that are what lead to inequality. There is a nationwide pattern, where universities are home to some of the greatest inequalities in the US. They're seen as beacons of growth, but that growth only benefits the upper class. University service employees for students and faculty, so restaurant and dining hall workers, are paid lower than living wages. On top of that, universities drive up the cost of housing in the surrounding area, so they’re paying them lower than living wages and preventing affordable housing for them, so they don’t have anywhere to live. The University is thought of as a ‘public good’,  but it doesn’t serve the public and it takes away housing. Although universities generate a ton of revenue, they are viewed as a non-profit, so they don’t have to pay the same property taxes that other revenue generating institutions would. Not only do Universities lead to inequality over time through gentrification, but they invoke eminent domain and demolish entire communities, framed under the idea of economic growth.” 

11. Can you comment on which factors seem to contribute most to housing inequality in Charlottesville?: “The University should emphasize over and over again how little UVa does [for housing scarcity]. But what is disturbing is that it’s claiming to do as much as it does, without any acknowledgement of neglect for housing and the community. In policy, if UVA were to have a real option for upper class housing, they technically do but they aren't desirable living spaces at a market rate so people don’t live in them, this would open up space for more affordable housing. Simple things like that, and then paying employees actual living wages based on the area housing prices. Separate from the university are zoning laws that favor single family homes. The ideal of the single family homes is part of the American dream, and it is hugely in the way of housing equalities. Zoning is set up such that a high rise apartment building can’t be built, next to all these single family homes but if we aren’t building up, we aren’t building the number of apartments that we need to support the community.”

12. What do you hope changes about housing inequality and access to affordable housing?

“So much. I think there should be a universal desire for homelessness to not exist. Everyone should recognize that it is not inevitable, it is a result of policies, and the perception that has built up around that should be dissolved. There should be significant changes to zoning policies to open up multi family homes, and apartment buildings. I wish all universities would take responsibility for their impact on local communities and adjust their actions accordingly. Ideally, it would be amazing for there to be more diverse communities, racially and economically, and Charlottesville as a community, needs to give them the space for housing that they deserve.” 

13. Can you comment on the impact of racism on affordable housing in Charlottesville?

“It’s huge. There is such a strong history of racism in Charlottesville, and even if things are not directly tied to race, there are other factors like credit, one's level of wealth, one's ability to manage finances, which are all rooted in racism. The city of Charlottesville demolished an entire community [Vinegar Hill]— a thriving economy of black people and put them in public housing. Then, the city allowed that housing to deteriorate, and then expected them to be financially stable enough to move somewhere new. Everything to a degree is rooted in race and class, and it absolutely contributes to the problem of homelessness in Charlottesville.” 

14. A member of the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition cited “racist housing covenants, discriminatory lending, and land seizures” as ways the housing crisis today remains racist in nature. Have you interacted with any guests at The Haven whose lack of housing was a result of/associated with these practices, and if so, what did they say about their experiences?

“I couldn’t give you any anecdotes. I think there is much less benefit of the doubt given to low income, minority communities. Landlords are quicker to evict, there is so much pressure from landlords on tenants.”

Closing comment- “The only thing  that I want to add is a reminder that all of our core actions should be based in humanizing other people, and caring for other people based on that. Giving people autonomy, and giving people opportunity.”


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