Man with a plan: Sam Newsom moves from homelessness to a six-figure salary consulting job
Sometimes the worst thing that happens to you turns out to be the best thing.
In 2015, “I got in a real bad accident,” said Sam Newsom. His broken knee and back injuries prevented him from ever going back to his physically demanding job of climbing ladders and crawling through attics as an HVAC technician. It also left him dependent on prescription opioid pain medication, which grew from dependency to addiction.
By June 2016, his state disability insurance had run out, his savings were exhausted, credit cards were maxed out, and he had sold “pretty much anything of value” that he owned. Unable to pay rent or physically work, he moved into the back of his 2001 GMC Sonoma pickup with a camper shell and a mattress.
Cold weather, despair and an opioid monkey on his back drove him to Utah’s Place in October 2016, where he walked with the aid of crutches to the front door for help.
Utah’s Place in Grass Valley is Nevada County’s only 24/7 emergency shelter for the general homeless population. It is run by Hospitality House, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Nevada County.
“I felt discarded and alone,” Newsom said in a Jan. 18 interview in his clean and spacious home in North Highlands. “You have lost everything. It can take you down some very dark thoughts.”
He quickly learned from the other homeless guests that many in the shelter also felt discarded, but he was assured over and over that he was not alone and his life mattered.
Because Newsom had a history of being housed and employed, and welcomed recovery treatment, he was a prime candidate for Hospitality House’s Ready to Rent program, a six-week course designed to open doors to housing through education with an emphasis on credit repair, money management and budgeting, and landlord and rental etiquette.
Hospitality House staff members Fred Skeen, Danielle Dawson, Heather Bailey and Charles Hungate were “super great” to him, he recalled.
“Sam responded well to case management suggestions of going into treatment first, securing a job second, and regaining control of his life,” said Skeen, a registered nurse and long-time volunteer and case manager at Hospitality House.
Newsom responded so well to the wraparound services provided at Hospitality House that he is now making a six-figure income working from home as a lighting and HVAC “subject matter expert” for Ecology Action, in addition to being the proud owner of a four-bedroom, two-bath home with a garage and swimming pool. But transitioning from homelessness to homeowner didn’t come easy.
ROCK BOTTOM BOUNCE
“It was just hitting that very rock bottom” that opened Newsom up to the possibility of a better way of life.
“It’s all about sticking to your plan,” he insisted.
The plan he developed with the help of Hospitality House staff was simple: rehab, job, place to live, save money, repair credit and buy a house.
“Half the people I went to high school with are all dead. Most died from opioid overdoses,” he said. With that motivation and “great counseling,” Newsom neutralized his addiction.
One Stop showed Newsom how he could transfer his skills as a master HVAC technician to “more of a desk-type job.”
In November 2016, he landed a job as a customer support tech in the Roseville office of Slakey Bros., a regional wholesaler of HVAC and plumbing supplies and equipment.
Because of the chronic affordable housing shortage, Newsom stayed at Utah’s Place and commuted daily to Roseville until he found cheap places to rent in January 2017. The first place was a “roach motel” in North Highlands, but he moved a few months later to a room above a warehouse in Auburn.
“It wasn’t the Taj Mahal, but I was able to rent it for $350 a month,” he said. It was “a place to sleep and get a shower.”
For the next two years, he stayed there saving money, repairing his credit, and saving more money, all according to the plan.
“You gotta have patience,” he stressed. “You gotta keep your eye on the prize.”
Although he was making good money at Slakey Bros., it wasn’t enough to buy the kind of house he wanted. So, in September 2019, he got a better job with Ecology Action, a prestigious nonprofit founded on Earth Day 1970.
“I design custom packages for clean air, especially now with COVID,” he said. He also advises building owners how to retrofit cost- and energy-efficient LED lighting systems.
With a six-figure salary, Newsom finally had the “debt-to-income” ratio he needed to put a prized house key in his pocket.
According to the plan devised at Utah’s Place in October 2016, Sam Newsom bought a house in December 2019 using a first-time-buyer FHA loan with a 3% down payment.
But that is not his dream home. “I really do want to move back to Grass Valley,” he said. In a few years, after he’s built some equity, he wants to either sell or rent the North Highlands house so he can get a place in Grass Valley — with a few extra rooms to offer as affordable housing.
“I wish I had 10 rooms I could rent to people at a fair price to help them out,” he said.
While 10 rooms would be ideal, for now Newsom pays it forward by renting two of his bedrooms to people who need affordable housing, as he once did himself. “I give them a reduced rent to help them out, so they can try to get on their feet,” he explained.
More than anything, Newsom wants others to know if he can do it, they can do it. In a follow-up email on Feb. 2, Newsom wrote: “Hospitality House gave me hope that I was not alone, and I did not have to go to bed hungry or use the bathroom in the woods. A decent dinner, warm shower and bed does a lot for the soul. They gave me enough to get my life restarted.”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer for The Union.
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