Gang activity and drug addiction run deep in Desiree’s family, and unfortunately, she was not able to avoid that path herself. She was born and raised by her mother in Oxnard.
“My mom comes from a hard background—she was born addicted to heroin,” Desiree said. “My grandmother was in prison during my mother’s whole life, so she was raised by her uncle. She tried to do her best—she never did drugs. She just didn’t know how to be a mom emotionally. But I never had a want for anything. She was a good mom.”
Desiree started using drugs young, and said she was already an addict in high school. “I just didn’t know it,” she said. “I was a functioning addict for a lot of years. I did well in school; graduating came easily.”
But a loss in the family hit Desiree hard. “My uncle, the person who raised my mom, was murdered,” she said. “He was shot and killed at a birthday party. That was when I started going in a different direction.”
Desiree had avoided gang life up until then. After high school she started hanging around that crowd, even while working two jobs and going to school full time. She got her certificate in Addictive Disorders Studies in 2014. Ironically, she was using the whole time she was studying the subject. “I was heavily addicted at that point,” she said. “I was using, but I didn’t feel like my life was out of control.”
After a relationship ended, Desiree said she fell into a deep depression. “I started heavily drinking, using more heavy drugs. My life was a party for all those years."
More loss in her family affected Desiree’s state of mind. “Many of the people who raised me passed away due to overdoses,” she said. “In 2017, my stepmom died. A few months after that my sister had an accident and was paralyzed. Watching her struggle in that condition was hard. It really affected me. It still does.
“That whole time in my life became a blur to me. My sister was sent to jail paralyzed and that was so hard. I was with someone (romantically) that I didn’t want to be with. I was drinking every day and feeling sorry for myself. I was abusing prescription drugs heavily. I was an atheist.”
Desiree attempted suicide and spent a few months in a mental hospital. “When I got out, I went right back to how I was. I came to the Lighthouse, but three months in, in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping, I just left.”
Desiree spent two weeks on the streets using. She tried to return to the Lighthouse, but was exited for threatening another client. She became homeless. When COVID hit, Desiree said her addiction worsened. She overdosed, but still continued drinking heavily and using crystal meth, opiates, and prescription drugs. “I was literally in the streets when I called the Lighthouse. Rene (Camper, program manager) picked up. We talked and she prayed for me.”
Desiree spent time at the shelter before the Lighthouse staff cautiously allowed her to reenter the program. That was nearly one year ago. “They showed me grace,” she said. “I was broken down, tired. I had been going crazy all that time I was homeless in the streets. I wanted somewhere safe, somewhere where I could just rest in a peaceful environment.
“The kindness they showed me as a staff … they come from such a place of love. They have such patience with us.”
Something changed in her during those months in the program, Desiree said. “I don’t know when it happened, when I became a believer. I just knew something bigger than me was happening. Now I’ve fully given myself to Jesus Christ. It’s beautiful. I see everything so differently now. “I see now that if all the bad hadn’t happened, like none of my family talking to me, I would not have come back. I see now how God was always moving in my favor. All the hurt was for a reason. I’m thankful for those experiences now.”
Desiree, now 33, graduated the program in August. She’s now in the Transitional Living Program and
serving as an intern at the emergency shelter, where she had done her vocational training. “I serve the ladies there now,” she said. “Of course, even though I’m there to serve them, I end up getting fed spiritually from it.”
She hopes to one day be employed by the Lighthouse. “I went to school for Addictive Disorders. Now I’m learning the biblical side of it. I’ve done secular programs—this is the only thing that worked. This was how I got real heart change.”