For the last few years, Carlos has called a small underpass settlement off the 5 South in Pacoima his home. A large tent reinforced with plywood was where he spent his days and nights. “It was dangerous,” he said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep. 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 in a stable family but by the age of 24 was drinking heavily and experimenting with drugs. “It was a daily thing. I depended on it,” he said.
Carlos’ eventually 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.”
Last year, after spending the hot summer months at the encampment off the freeway, Carlos decided that he was done with the life he had been living. He did some research, found the Rescue Mission, and was admitted into the Life Recovery Program.
“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 got baptized at the beach and I feel like I’m going to succeed in this program.”
“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.”
Now, eight months into the Life Recovery program, Carlos has benefitted greatly from his time in the Culinary Arts program. “Chef Richard has been a great inspiration to me,” Carlos said. “He has taught me to slow down, listen and focus.” Carlos is now committed to pursuing a career in the food service industry. After his graduation in March, he plans to attend Oxnard College culinary school while interning at the Mission.
Reflecting on how much has changed in the months since leaving his old life behind, Carlos says, “I am confident I can be sober for life with the help of God’s love.”
Jesus grew up living on the Avenue in Ventura. His parents had come from Mexico, learned English and were living the American Dream of freedom, hard work, and financial independence. Because of this, Jesus and his three siblings lived a good life.
After graduating from high school, Jesus got a job in produce management at Vons. He did well at work, made good money, and still attended church with his family each week. “I kept a good lifestyle until I was 25,” he said. “I met some bad people through work and was introduced to drugs, but I was able to push it away at first. Eventually I was doing it, but I was a functional addict.”
When the Vons Jesus worked at was bought by another chain, he lost his job. “I was depressed,” he said. “I had access to drugs, and I started self-medicating. I was numbing myself. My parents noticed my behaviors, and finally, my mom found some of my drugs in my closet. My Dad told me to get straight or leave the house.”
Jesus left the house and was homeless for two years. “I was just finding a way to escape, to not face what I was doing,” he said. “I wasn’t able to accept what was happening, and that kept pushing me to use.”
After a year of living in his car, Jesus learned about the Mission from an Oxnard police officer. He started coming for meals and sometimes stayed in the overnight shelter. Jesus would talk with some of the men in the program and they would encourage him. Eventually, Jesus decided to enter the Life Recovery Program. “I was greeted so nicely, and the staff was happy to see me join,” he said. “They make you feel like you belong there, like it’s a family. It had been a long time since I had felt safe and comfortable.”
After graduating the program Jesus was not clear of where his next steps would be. “I was excited,” he said, “but unsure and scared as well.” But as Jesus continued on and became an intern working directly with the homeless who come to the Mission, his perspective began to change. He knew that “God calls us to love one another,” and he was beginning to sense that God was guiding his steps. Throughout his internship, Jesus demonstrated a care and commitment to his role and became an example to both the men in the program and to those he cared for.
His dedication was apparent and Jesus was hired as the full-time overnight Security Officer at the Rescue Mission. “This place has now become my calling and I am able to give back and to serve others,” Jesus said. “I can now say that, thanks to God’s love, I have everything.”