“Well, I moved here three years ago from Missouri, ‘cause of her,” Skyler Padgett says, gesturing to his wife, Tricia Potter. They’re sitting on the back porch outside their Santa Rosa home, under a shady overhang, wind chimes tinkling behind them, and this makes them both smile. “We met in a LGBTQ+ group on Facebook. And we started talking and just instantly connected.”

“Life in St. Louis wasn’t that great for me,” he continues. “St. Louis is not trans-friendly at all. A friend of mine had been murdered there, for being trans. So I knew there was no way I could be there and live my life how I wanted to be, to live as my true self.” 

When Skyler and Tricia met, he was running the cafeteria at Edward Jones. “This is before I came out as trans,” Skyler says, “and I didn’t shave one day. And my boss told me, ‘You need to go home and shave.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to.’ My boss said, ‘Well, if you don’t shave, we have a problem.’ So I didn’t shave. And I went from being in charge of the cafeteria to demoted to a grill cook.” Then, as he was driving home, he received a call letting him know that he no longer had a position with the company. “That was the final straw.”

Skyler had been stationed in San Diego when he was in the Navy, so he was familiar with California, and already loved it. “My first Pride was in San Francisco,” he says, “so I fell in love with California like that. [When I was there] I thought, this is my home. This is where I wanna live.” So when Trisha asked him to move out to California with her, it was a no brainer.

At the time, Tricia was living with a friend in a studio apartment in Guerneville. “Already two people in a studio is a lot, but three people in a studio?” Tricia says with a laugh. While they were looking for a bigger place, they stayed with Tricia’s sister on her living room floor for a time. Then an acquaintance had a mother-in-law unit in Cloverdale, but unfortunately, the situation devolved quickly. “We were only there for a month, and that’s when we found COTS,” she says.

They got connected to COTS through the Veteran’s Resource Center (VRC, now Nation’s Finest), where Skyler was employed as a cook. With bad credit between them and Tricia’s emotional support cat, they found it nearly impossible to find viable housing options. One after another, they applied to and either were rejected or had units fall through, mostly due to credit checks. “I was at the point where I was just ready to give up,” Skyler says. “We were looking at sleeping in our car.” 

In the nick of time, Skyler’s case manager, Trevor, found them a house in Bennett Valley. They had a roommate, Art, an older Vietnam vet who also served in the Navy, and a spacious three-bedroom house with hardwood floors and a built-in closet. Skyler and Art hit it off “like peas and carrots,” says Tricia. It felt like a dream come true.

Then, the owner sold the building, and they had to move. They were devastated.

They moved into another shared living situation with several housemates, including a couple who lived downstairs. It was alright at first. “The wife and [Tricia] became friends,” Skyler said. “But then there was a confrontation, and I was called an ‘it’ by her husband.” The tension in the house became unbearable. 

Eventually, COTS broke off its agreement with the landlord, and moved all the tenants out of the house into other units.

That led Skyler and Tricia to the house they live in now. They were nervous at first because they were going to have roommates again. “I don’t like to come out as trans [at home] because I don’t know if there’s transphobic people,” says Skyler. “And I do not want to create a toxic environment, not only for me, but for my wife. This is my comfort zone. I go home to get away from that.”

Fortunately, they were pleasantly surprised. “It’s been wonderful,” Skyler says, relief clear on his face. “I can’t even describe it. We’re all just one big happy family here. We all look out for each other. We take care of each other, and they don’t make me feel any different than anybody else. It’s incredible, you know, it’s very accepting. And you can’t put a price on that.” 

They’ve been in their current home for a year and a half, and they plan to stay with COTS as long as they need to. “They’ve been good to us,” says Skyler. “I mean if it wasn’t for COTS we’d be houseless. And Debbie [Robbins, their case manager] is very understanding. We were severely behind on rent because I can’t afford it. I just keep her up to date on things and I just pay what I can. Thank God we’re in the COTS system.” 

“Being with COTS allows us to be able to stay here in Sonoma County,” adds Tricia. “I’m from Fresno, and that would be the backup plan, to move back to Fresno. And I really don’t want to move back to Fresno,” she adds, laughing.

Last November, after two bad job experiences as a cook (the only thing he’s ever done), one including transphobic treatment, Skyler made the hard decision to go on disability and reevaluate his career choices. That’s when Debbie got a flyer for a peer support class. “She thought of me, and she brought it by and she said, ‘Skyler, what do you think about this?’ I took the class, and not only did I fall in love with the class, but I realized that I can really help somebody, with just my learned experience.” 

And Skyler does have learned experience. He has childhood trauma from ongoing sexual abuse, which led him to develop dissociative identity disorder (DID), and PTSD from his time on a Naval supply ship. He was addicted to heroin for eight years, has experienced homelessness, and struggled with his identity as a trans man. 

“The thing with me is, I’ve had a hard journey, but I’m not afraid to tell my story,” Skyler says. “I want people to know I’m trans and I want them to hear my story. Because it does get better. My journey’s been hard, but you know, there’s always tomorrow, ‘cause the sun will come up no matter what, it always does. 

“I’ve tried to kill myself more times than I even like to mention, but failed every time. I put a gun in my mouth; it jammed. I tried to hang myself; the rope broke. I pulled my car into a garage and just left it running, and my car was perfectly fine, and then the battery died. So I am supposed to be here. I don’t know what my purpose is, but the universe and God led me to this peer support, so this is the path I’m walking on, and I’m gonna share my story with people and hopefully help somebody turn their life around, like my life has been turned around. Don’t give up because hope – and you can take this home with you – hope is: hold on pain ends. That’s what it stands for. And I’m getting that [tattooed] next for a constant reminder because you know what, it does end; hold on. It will end, and it does.”

As of the publication of this newsletter, Skyler has started his new job as a Peer Support Specialist through the Wellness Center, a brand new program beginning early August. “I’ll be assigned three members, and I’m helping them transition from being houseless to getting stable, permanent housing,” Skyler says. “And whatever services they need, I’m gonna help them stabilize their environment. I am over the moon happy and excited.”