Van was called a “late bloomer.” Despite a large extended family that often drank and used drugs at get-togethers, Van managed to avoid that lifestyle until he was in his 20s.
“I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, and there weren’t ever drugs around me,” Van said. But that changed when his family moved to Portland to be closer to his mom’s family. She was one of 12 siblings. “I wouldn’t say the family was very close, but the group got together for birthdays, funerals and other parties,” he said. “That’s when I started seeing the drug use. All my family members would be drinking, smoking weed, and people my age were around the corner smoking crack.”
Van was 23 when he joined in. “That’s when I was around and they asked me to try it. These are my cousins. It’s like, ‘Sure, you’re my family. I can trust you. If you’re doing it, it should be OK.’ That’s how I looked at it.”
Van moved to Oxnard with some family members. When they returned to Portland, Van decided to stay. After securing a good job working with students at University of California, Santa Barbara, Van got a place in Isla Vista. “There was a lot of partying going on in that area. I started experimenting more with drugs. I didn’t really feel like I had an addictive personality. But as time went on, every time I got paid, I found myself calling the dealer. Then when I would visit friends in L.A., I found myself calling their dealer.”
While in Los Angeles, Van wrecked his car. “I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t get my car fixed. I was homeless for a week. I was just praying to God, ‘I need help, I need help. Why did this happen to me?’”
A cousin wired him $40 for a bus ticket back to Oxnard. “It was raining so hard. I hadn’t showered in a week. I was looking really scruffy. I had a beard—I was looking so, so bad. I ended up coming to the Mission, just thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a place where I can sleep.’” Van spent the night, and when he woke up, his umbrella was gone. “I got really upset. It was still raining. I was just trying to figure out what to do, praying for God to help me. Someone said to me, ‘Ask them about their programs.’
He did, and after talking with Chaplain Carl, Van decided to enter the 10-month Life Recovery Program.
“I started understanding why I was doing the things I was doing,” Van said. “I’m kind of a shy person, and when I was drinking and doing drugs, I was more (outgoing). It really opened me up and everybody liked me. I had always been the person wondering what others thought of me. I was always trying to get approval. Doing drugs, being with the “in” crowd, I was just looking for acceptance.”
Van graduated from the program Dec. 19. “Life is going really good now,” Van said. “I got my relationship back with God again. And he directed me here so I wouldn’t get too caught up in the drugs. If it wasn’t for this Mission, I don’t know where I would be right now. I just thank God that he sent me here.”
Van is staying in transitional housing now, interning at the Mission and continuing college studies in American Sign Language. His goal is to get a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Northridge, and become an interpreter.
Van is grateful for donors who enable the Mission to bring on the chaplains and staff who helped him during the program. “They made me feel accepted. It’s like a family. If you need any help, they’re here. Regardless of color or anything, you’re accepted. Every morning, I woke up with people smiling at me, telling me ‘Good morning.’ And it made me feel like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ It’s been like that since day one. They want you to succeed.”