Estrella grew up in Oxnard with her younger sister and parents, who separated when she was 10. Her father was deported shortly after for being in and out of jail. “I became very rebellious because I didn’t have my dad,” Estrella said. “I started using drugs when I was 11 and alcohol when I was 14. I was in a bad car accident and the girl next to me in the car passed away. I broke my pelvis in half. That’s when I got hooked on pain meds. I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life.”
Estrella got into gangs at a young age too. “I felt like that’s what I wanted,” she said. “That’s where I was comfortable.”
Estrella got pregnant when she was 17, but still graduated high school. She didn’t get heavy back into drugs after her daughter’s birth; she was attending college and had a job.
Estrella got married in 2003. The couple, who had two children together, went to church, and got saved together. They were together for 10 years and married for half that time. But then he started hitting her. “In time, we separated,” Estrella said. “Things got harder and harder for me. I had more children.”
While she got her five kids off to school each day and cared for them when at home, she was smoking meth and drinking alcohol while they were at school. In 2014, her kids were taken away from her.
“I spiraled out of control,” Estrella said. “That’s when my life really fell apart. I was lost without them. I didn’t want to be in my home. I had money to pay the rent, but I didn’t. I ended up homeless right here on these very streets. It turned into five years. I was really bound by my addiction. I was in and out of jail. I overdosed a couple times. I should be dead right now.”
Estrella had two more children while she was homeless, and they were both adopted. She spent eight months in jail, and the day she was released, found her way back to the Lighthouse. She had stayed at the shelter before, and had even entered the Life Recovery Program years ago. “They gave me the chance to come back,” said Estrella, now 38. “It’s an awesome program. It has structure. Your self-esteem and your confidence go up again. The staff is very positive and encouraging. And the other girls here, the way we come together, we are all really supportive of each other. We come together a lot as a family.
“The fact that the program is faith based and we put God first in everything—we start every day with praise and worship—I think that makes all the difference. When girls come and they say they don’t know how to get a hold of God or where they are with their walk with God, I tell them, ‘Don’t worry, it will come with time. Just focus on the program. God’s not going to judge you. He knows your heart. He knows your mind.”
Estrella has had some struggles in the program, but she has learned from her mistakes. “I’ve learned that little things can have big consequences and I have to be obedient all the time,” she said. “I’ve always been grateful and appreciated the staff here and everything, but I’m more serious about my program now. This isn’t a joke. It’s a matter of my life. You shouldn’t be here unless you want to change your life.”
Estrella is due to graduate in January. “There is no other program like this,” she said. “I’m just so grateful that I get to focus on just getting better. It’s a blessing. I’m just curious and excited to see what God is going to do with me. I have to be still and know that He is going to take care of me.”