For the last few years, on and off, Carlos has called Interstate 5 his home. A small underpass settlement off the 5 South in Pacoima, set up with plywood and a large tent, was where he spent his days and nights. “It was dangerous,” he said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep (for safety). I would just get high and get drunk—it was so depressing. It was a constant battle. I’d feel so lonely. I’d ask God, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’”
Carlos never imagined he would experience homelessness in his lifetime. He grew up the oldest of three children to Salvadorian parents. He said he got everything he wanted, and was drinking too much by the time he was 21. He started experimenting with drugs, and by 24, Carlos said that his using became a problem. “It was a daily thing. I depended on it,” he said.
Carlos tried going to college, but he dropped out after half of a semester. After his father acquired a newsstand, Carlos worked for him for a while. “Unfortunately he had to let me go more than once because of drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Next Carlos starting working in restaurants. “I realized that that was what I really loved to do,” he said. “I started as a dishwasher. I love to cook and prep food. But because of my addiction, I got fired a lot. I would get five jobs a year, but I'd get fired a lot.”
Carlos was also in and out of jail, although he did experience a bit of a spiritual breakthrough there. “I ordered a comic book bible in there,” he said. “I grew up Catholic, and I respect everyone’s beliefs and opinions, but I never was told, I never learned, that the way to get close to God was to read the Bible. When I started reading it, I was guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Carlos’ addiction still had a handle on him though. In 2017, he ended up on the streets. “I closed the doors and burned the bridges,” he said. “I chose to be homeless because I wanted to drink. My parents had rules at their house and I broke those rules. And when I lived on my own, I’d be living paycheck-to-paycheck and biting my nails at the end of the day, struggling, thinking of my addiction before I thought about food.”
Carlos would sometimes return to his parents’ home. “My mom would say, ‘OK, last time.’ She always had love for me. She’d always open the doors to me. I’d shower and stay for a week maybe and then I was on the streets again, choosing my addiction, hurting them.”
Last year, Carlos was at the camp off the freeway for five months in the summer. He finally decided that enough was enough. He did some research and found the Mission. He arrived in December.
“I’m being fed the Word here,” he said. “I knew of God, but being obedient to the Word is different. He’s revealed himself to me. I know I’m doing something productive. I feel like I’m going to succeed in this program. I got baptized here—we went to the beach. I thank everyone here for the ways that they run this program. I feel like God sent me here to Oxnard.
“I’ve been to other programs before,” Carlos added. “I was lying to myself, thinking I was ready, knowing I’d use again. I’m not here for a bed. I’m here for the long run.”
Looking forward, Carlos is considering interning at the Mission or going into the Transitional Living Program. He is interested in pursuing a career as a counselor, or continuing his passion in the food industry, perhaps at a hospital. “I want to help others, and get them close to Christ Jesus, our Savior. I ask God every night to bless my hands. And I want to work with the homeless. I don’t want to forget where I came from.”
Carlos said he’s so grateful to the Mission staff and the guidance they’ve provided. “I’m just glad I’m sober and I found Jesus Christ,” he said. “I’ve done awful things. I have two DUIs. I have a lot of patience and a tender heart, but under the influence, I’m the opposite. I want to maintain my faith and not lose hope.”
Carlos pointed to Philippians 3:12-14, part of which reads, “…one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
“I am reaching forward and not looking back,” Carlos said. “I’ll continue to persevere on my journey.”