Santa Barbara Rescue Mission focuses on rebuilding lives. Here are just a few stories.
Sarah was alone, defenseless, lonely and afraid; certain she’d die out there. Dying on the streets was a future she’d never imagined for herself. Growing up across the breakfast table from a bipolar, alcoholic dad, eventually Sarah and her mother left. After the divorce, Sarah fell in with the wrong crowd. She immediately found comfort in heroin and was addicted by 16.
Sarah’s addiction cost her everything and she ended up overdosing on the street. She reached out to her new stepfather and he asked her: “Are you going to die this way with nothing but the clothes on your back . . . or are you going to ask God for help?” Ordinary rehab programs had failed Sarah before. Feeling lost and ashamed, she had crumbled and relapsed . . . and ended up back on the street.
Her stepfather was right: Sarah needed to include God in her recovery. After being accepted into our 12-month Christ-centered residential recovery program, Sarah is well on her way to a new and better life. With tears of gratitude running down her cheeks, she says, “For the first time in my life, I have more good days than bad days. That’s never happened before . . .
“I feel like I have so much more value now. My confidence is built up by the people around me here every single day, when I’ve been told I’m worthless my whole life. “Now I have dreams. I know what I want to try to be and that I can get up and go to work and go to meetings when I have problems. I can pray, have people to call, and I have friends. I haven’t had friends since 6th grade! “I’m coming out of the ashes into something new!”
It started when she was just a little girl. Christina says, “My mom has always been a single parent. I’ve seen men come and go throughout our lives, all of them addicts. My mother and her husbands—my ‘uncles’—took drugs and everyone drank . . . “So I stayed up nights to watch over my brothers and sisters . . . and that was when I was first molested. I wasn’t safe. I was scared. And when I told my mom, I felt like she was trying to get rid of me.”
As a seven-year-old, Christina remembers thinking,“If the people who brought me into this world can cause this much heartache and pain, then imagine what the world can do.” Years of addiction led to despair, and even jail. Until one April day, “I decided I needed help. And I came to Bethel House.” she says. “This is the final chapter in my life with addiction. Today, I have hope. “I feel like for once in my life, I’m doing the right thing, doing it for myself!” Christina proclaims.
Christina was the featured Bethel House speaker for her graduating class on March 11 at Calvary Baptist Church. Yesterday she successfully completed 365 days of treatment and relocated out of the area to be near her four children.
I don’t think he ever really had a chance for a normal life— someplace safe, with someone to love or care for him. You might not either if your mom became an addict after years of child abuse. She had his older sister when she was just 13, and Steven when she was 15. Steven recalls, “CPS came out and took us away. Split us up. It was hard.” Then, after bouncing around in foster care, he was finally rescued by his grandparents—only to have the bottom drop out of his life once again.
“My grandpa was my best friend. He was like my dad. Then he died of cancer. Two weeks later I got a call from the sheriff, saying my mom was found dead in a homeless shelter. I started drinking heavily, and went off the deep end—right over the edge.” After years of homelessness and time in jail, with no one else to come to his aid, Steven turned first to our emergency shelter, and later entered our 12-month Christian recovery program.
Steven says, “I don’t know what I’d do without this place. I’m blessed to be here. And I’m taking every opportunity to do everything I can here. I love this place!” he smiles. “I plan on staying on the straight and narrow and getting to where I should be,” he says. “Taking care of myself, making a living—and giving back in any way I can!”
The hope we find in Christ’s resurrection is an inspiration to each of us—even when you’ve lived through heartache, abuse, and addiction, like Joselle . . .
Both her parents were alcoholics, and after being taken away from her mother, the trauma and violence Joselle experienced at the “iron fists” of her stepmother scarred her deeply. Then, as a vulnerable 13-year-old, she was sent to live with her grandmother. But what could have been an opportunity to escape the damage she’d received became the exact opposite: “I immediately fell in with the wrong crowd”—and into addiction, Joselle admits sadly.
“From that moment on, my life would no longer be my own for many, many years . . .” Until one cold, black December night when she was pulled over for drunk driving. “I knew at that moment it was an intervention from God,” she says with tears at the memory. “And I spent 33 days in jail before coming to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.”
“You’ve provided me with a safe, loving, calm, and disciplined sanctuary to put myself and my life back together,” she smiles. “God had a plan for me,” Joselle says with assurance she’s rarely felt before. “He saved my life. Let me tell you how grateful I am to be a part of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.”
I felt like I never fit in, so I did a lot of things to become anyone other than me.” Which is how he wandered into a world of alcohol and drug use . . . at just 12 years old. And eventually into the hands of a child predator.
That was the turning point, changing the young boy I was before. And I buried the memories of it somewhere inside me—for 32 years.” Blair vividly recalls, “I was an empty shell of a human being, even spending time in prison, seeing murder, stabbings, riots, and more violence. After I was released, I overdosed on heroin, and they told me I died on the kitchen floor. I remember waking up in a hospital angry I was still alive.” Until God led him into the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s life-transforming, year-long residential drug and alcohol treatment program.
God has helped Blair put himself and his life back together here at the Mission. And I’m proud to tell you he’s now a graduate of our recovery program! Blair smiles, “This year has blessed me with faith and knowledge that life can be beautiful and full of happiness. I can finally hold my head up high and be proud of who I am. I have discovered joy in a world I used to see as only filled with pain. I want to live today—and I owe my life to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission program!”
She descended into addiction while her mom prayed she wouldn’t die. If Megan hadn’t come here, she could have died. “It wasn’t IF I would die,” she says, tears springing into her eyes. “It was WHEN.”
Then Megan was arrested and she realized she finally had to make a decision—“I knew the rest of my life was going to be addiction and jail . . . or I could decide to do something to change that. So I made the choice to try the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. There are so many people here who genuinely love you,” she says. “People who genuinely care.”
“My life was on the line,” she admits. “I was ready to die . . . and almost didn’t care what came next,” she sighs. “There was no hope.” But when God guided Megan into our proven 12-month recovery program, she discovered the Christ-centered love necessary to break the cycle of addiction and turn her life around. “A lot of times I felt like I didn’t deserve it,” she admits, “and I’m still not sure why, but God gave me this chance!”
Melissa never thought she’d end up without her sons, especially at the holidays. It’s incredibly hard when you’ve hit rock bottom, lost everything, and ended up on the street. But Melissa’s journey through pain began early. After being abused as a child and seeing her parents split up, she found relief in alcohol and drugs—in junior high. “Little did I know that my dependency on these substances would haunt me for the rest of my life,” she says.
Along the way, she thought she’d found peace in the birth of her two sons. But even they couldn’t keep her from despair and the demons of addiction. Finally, years later, she found herself homeless and without them. She’d lost her boys. And she says she almost lost her life. She smiles with tears in her eyes as she recalls the moment she finally took control of her life—and began turning it around, “in desperation, over my head, I decided to apply to Bethel House.”
“Today, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior,” Melissa smiles. “I’ve found my place in this family, and believe God has a plan for me!” That’s the best part of Melissa’s story: her recovered life includes her sons, and hugging them close, she says, “I look forward to becoming a full part of their lives and being the mother I know I have always been capable of being!”
Karla was abused . . . by those she trusted the most. The fact that she is here, still alive today, is a miracle—after being physically abused as a child, only to experience more terror in foster care—bearing the pain and impact of both without professional help for so many years.
“All I wanted to do was not exist. And a friend of mine said he had the perfect cure for everything I was going through—and introduced me to cocaine. “It worked,” she says—for awhile. “I didn’t sleep so I didn’t have the nightmares. But it got worse and progressed and I became an addict. I put myself in situations where I should not be alive. I OD’d. I was stabbed. I lost my house. Lost everything. And went to jail.”
“Every time somebody told me there was a program I could do that would turn my life around, I would turn it down, because I didn’t believe . . .” But finally God spoke to Karla’s aching heart, she listened, she believed and Karla came here to the sanctuary of Bethel House. Gratefully, she says, “I’ve been given a chance to heal—and I have never been offered that in my life. Not by anybody.” Karla graduated in 2015 and is enjoying her life today as a mother, grandmother, volunteer, and she sponsors women at Bethel House.
Irene was the spokesperson for Bethel House at the July 2016 graduation ceremony. She has a tragic story, but she is triumphantly beginning a brand new chapter.
Forty years ago, a sixth-grade teacher handed a Bible to a boy named David. Opening the front cover, he had written, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in times of tribulation and constant in prayer,” Romans 12:12. Underneath, he added, “I hope you will find comfort in this verse someday.” Those words came back to David as he sat in despair on the railroad tracks not far from here—homeless, addicted, and alone.
“I was scared,” David says, “I didn’t know who I was.” And he prayed for his life. God answers prayers: three days later he was in detox, two weeks after that he found a place open in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s 12-month, faith-centered recovery program. David completed his year in the program and is employed at a local non-profit organization. “This place really has saved my life,” he says with tears of gratitude in his eyes, “and if I can be saved and helped, then there’s hope for others, too.”
Dillon played baseball in high school and was always the apple of his mother’s eye . . . until he disappeared into addiction for seven, long, terrible years. “By the age of 18 I was full-blown addicted to severe pain medication,” he remembers, “And that’s when the vicious cycle of opium addiction really took over my life. I started feeling the withdrawals when I didn’t have it, one thing led to another . . . and then I found heroin.”
After that nothing mattered to Dillon but the drug. Until he hit rock bottom. “I was extremely underweight, I was broken, and I had nothing, nothing at all,” he says, “except a tiny seed of hope.” That’s when Dillon went down on his knees—and prayed. “I was lost, and cried out for help,” he says, with tears in his eyes at the memory. “Then a week later, my mom found me on the streets.” She brought him here—to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. “That’s all it took,” he says in relief.
“Coming to the Mission allowed me to find out who Jesus is and allowed me to have a relationship with God. I don’t think I would have found that if I hadn’t come here. That’s the basis of my sobriety,” Dillon says gratefully. He is completing the final days of his year-long program, attending Santa Barbara City College, and passing all of his classes.
Tragically, Susan suffered terrible abuse as a child right here in Santa Barbara, which finally drove her into desperate addiction as a way to cope . . . at age 13.
But, of course, there was no hope or help for her in alcohol or drugs. And after years of trying to escape her past in any way possible, she remembers just what it felt like to hit bottom—“Inside, my spirit was dying,” she says. That was when Susan’s younger sister—who had fought her own battle with addiction—told her about a place she could finally find redemption . . . and real hope.
Susan’s brutal past and horrendous addiction chewed her up and spit her out on the streets—“I didn’t have a place to live, was in and out of shelters, and was so tired,” she recalls. “I’d burnt all my bridges . . . I was just broken.” Blinking back tears at the memory, Susan says, “But I knew from my sister about the program here in Santa Barbara. She went through the treatment program at Bethel House, and she finished it!”
That was enough to inspire Susan to follow. “I just surrendered, came in a few days later, and have been here ever since,” she says gratefully. “And this program is changing my life!” She explains, “I’ve tried doing 12-step programs before, but this time it’s with Christ and Bible study. And that real core value is what’s going to make it happen for me here.”
On the plane from Mexico to America, 14-year-old Dulce was excited and nervous. She was moving to the US to have a better education, get a better job, and have a real career. But America didn’t turn out to be the bright land of opportunities her parents expected. Dulce was teased and rejected, and spent her days lonely and confused.
Dulce hid her loneliness because she didn’t want to let her parents down? but to find acceptance, she started going out drinking and taking drugs. Sadly, these “friends” were the only ones who made her feel at home, while the consequences of her addiction drew her further and further from her parents. Then Dulce was arrested for selling drugs. She sat in jail for four months, with far too much time to think and worry. She had a two-year-old son now, and realized at last that the life she was leading had no future for her or for him. She entered Bethel House in 2007 and successfully completed our 12-month Residential Recovery Program.
Thinking of her son helps Dulce to stay on track every day. She knows she’s doing what’s best for both of them, and is finally the mommy he really needs. Dulce lives in our community and is gainfully employed in the telecommunications industry as a customer care representative.
Sarah lost her job, then everything else—including her daughter. Sarah had to place her with a relative when she became homeless. “I camped by the train tracks. I was homeless during the holidays,” she recalls, shivering. “I was so hungry . . . I’d wait in lines to eat.”
“I was unemployable. I had nowhere to go. I slept in abandoned buildings,” Sarah remembers, blinking back tears. “Or there was a lobby where they’d give you a blanket and you could sleep on the floor.” Finally, Sarah said, “I need help. I can’t live this way anymore.” And she found her way to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
Today, she says, “When I got here I had nothing. Literally. No clothes. Nothing. Now I have all of my basic needs met, and am with positive people, and that gave me my life back!” Sarah’s even reconnected with her daughter and smiles proudly, “I call and tell her goodnight, see how her day went at school, and see what’s going on in her life. And I tell her a little bit about my day too.” And Sarah is making plans for their future together. “I know I’ll be employable again. I know I’ll be an upstanding member of society again. And I’ll definitely be a good mom!”
After a life destroyed by addiction, Leslie experienced a spiritual awakening at the Mission. “I realized it’s possible to stay clean—and maintain a relationship with God!” This is a miracle because Leslie may not have survived much longer on the streets. She says, “I’ve woken up in the shower with cold water spraying in my face . . . and with my boyfriend crying and screaming . . . and in the hospital as a Jane Doe. I didn’t even recognize my own life.”
Leslie hit rock bottom the day she was arrested. But in that darkest of moments, “a judge blessed me by giving me the choice to find a residential treatment facility.” Then God led her to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. “I grew so much at Bethel House,” she remembers. “I slowly blossomed into the woman I am today.” This strong, secure woman graduated from our life-recovery program alongside other men and women into stable, productive lives!
Leslie, for one, will tell you in a heartbeat how grateful she is for help from her “family” of friends at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. “It’s such a blessing to have someone love me for exactly who I am in this moment. My life has truly become more than anything I could have imagined—and I say that seriously, because I saw myself dying from my addiction.” But then Leslie continued, “I have come such a long way, escaping a life imprisoned in my own mind. Today I am free, alive, healthy, clean . . . and I have an abundance of love and light to send out to anyone who comes across my path.”
Aaron spoke for the men in his graduating class and shared his life story of courage, hope and strength. In less than three minutes, you can hear it for yourself in this brief video.
“I remember walking down State Street at 2 in the morning, hating life,” Ted shared. “My soul was empty and full of hate. I didn’t know if I wanted to get clean . . . or die.” He continued, “I remember being cold and wet all the time, sleeping under bushes and parking garages.”
Ted explained, “It’s so hard to try to change when you don’t have a home or a place to shower or food in your stomach.” After using drugs and alcohol for years to dull the pain, Ted finally hit bottom. He quietly spoke, with great sadness, “I suddenly remembered that when I was a boy I vowed to myself that I was never going to be like my father . . . but it dawned on me that I’d become worse than him.”
Finally, Ted decided to get help. He walked through our doors and began turning his life around. During his very first interview, “I started crying,” he recalls. “Five days later I was in the program.” And he’s thankful for your help. “It’s amazing that people give to keep this place open for people like me who they don’t know—and society doesn’t accept.”
Ted is in the final phase of the program and has a full-time job. He laughed, “Life is good now. I can deal with it!”
Michael was raised by loving parents and enjoyed a great childhood with his two brothers. At the age of three, growths requiring surgery were discovered on Michael’s vocal cords. Over a seven-year period, he had multiple operations that affected his ability to speak. He was ridiculed by his peers, and he began to feel like an outsider. Michael desperately wanted to fit in, and he found a new set of friends with whom he smoked pot on a daily basis.
At the age of 18, Michael experimented with cocaine, which gave him all the confidence he needed. His father passed away and this led him to a life of isolation and drug use. He built impenetrable walls and became an unmotivated, fearful individual. After a friend told him there was hope for people like him, Michael called the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission for 55 consecutive days until a bed was available.
Michael said the first thing he was told when he entered the program was that only one thing needed to change, and that was “everything.” He committed himself to the demands of the recovery program and faced his fears. Michael was also able to work with a grief counselor and come to terms with the death of his father. Michael concluded, “I have been able to take direction when I felt I didn’t need to and come to the understanding that my way isn’t always the right way.”
When Leslie was a little girl, she vividly remembers her dad physically abusing her mom. Her mother eventually left her father and raised Leslie and her two siblings. To support the family, her mother started working with the Mexican drug cartel in Mexico and brought Leslie with her. As a little girl, Leslie saw drugs, alcohol and sex. Ultimately, her mother was caught and went to jail. At the age of 14, Leslie began smoking marijuana and drinking, and a year later she started smoking meth.
By the time she was 17, Leslie was homeless and committing crimes to support her addiction. This led to transporting immigrants over the border from Mexico. Leslie engaged in this dangerous activity over many years until she was caught by border patrol. She returned to a homeless lifestyle and, before her third arrest, realized how very tired she was of this pattern.
While in jail, Leslie began reading a Bible, and she filled out an application for Bethel House. She was accepted and this is where her recovery started. Leslie spoke for her graduating class on March 14, 2015, and shared, “I’m a year clean and sober. I have a job, I’m getting my high school diploma, and I know that if I keep doing the next right thing, God’s got me and won’t let me go.”
“I became a heroin addict and fought it for 30 years,” Lance admits, remembering how he lost jobs, home, even family over his pain and addiction. “I was homeless a lot of times,” Lance says, and he was always isolated. “I hated myself so much that I couldn’t love anybody,” he remembers. “And I was ashamed about being a heroin addict for 25-plus years. I didn’t ever want to tell anybody . . . but it was my story,” he admits.
When Lance finally hit bottom, serving time in jail, he also found out about a place where he could find the peace and purpose he’d lost: at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. “Everybody was talking about how this place rebuilds broken lives,” he remembers. “Then I came here, and you learn about Jesus’ love,” he marvels. “And you learn to put Him first and love your neighbors. So I was like, ‘wow, I have a chance at this! God does love me.’ It’s the first time I felt unconditional love.” “I know angels are all around us at the Mission, from those who give to the ones who volunteer. It’s amazing what I see today, and what I feel!” he says. “I love the Mission. It saved my life!”
“This place and the Lord saved my life,” Katie said. Then, with tears of pain and shame in her eyes, she shared. “I was on the streets I had nowhere to go. I was living wherever I could, staying on couches, in laundromats . . . it was horrible.”
She remembers the moment she hit bottom—and looked up for help. “I got into some trouble with the law, and I had turned myself into Santa Barbara County jail.” “Then a friend said, ‘Here, Katie, you need to fill out this application to Bethel House, right now.’ I thought, ‘No, they are not going to accept me—look at me!’ But God had other plans . . .”
God brought her here. And I’m proud to say Katie has now graduated from our recovery program with a totally transformed life! “I just think this is an amazing place,” she smiles. “It’s where I found my life—it was given back to me. I now go to Santa Barbara City College. I have a job. I’m employee of the month and I’ve only been there two months. I just feel like I’ve been brought out of the darkness and into the light!”
Fernando is the youngest of seven children. He grew up in Carpinteria where he attended school, but he started getting into trouble at an early age. Fernando had his first experience with alcohol at the age of five. As a teenager, he wasn’t drinking all of the time, but he often drank enough to pass out.
In high school, Fernando fell in love with a girl who would ultimately become the mother of his child. He struggled with confusion and an inability to get close to other people. The only place he could find comfort and belonging was in the gang lifestyle. It was also an environment filled with drugs and alcohol.
At the age of 25, Fernando started using meth and within two years he had lost his home, girlfriend and son. He landed in jail several times and hit rock bottom. He said, “With my addiction and all its consequences, I’d become one pretty messed up individual.”
On November 4, 2013, Fernando entered our 12-month Residential Recovery Program. At that time, he did not know the whereabouts of his son. Fernando reflected, “I learned to have faith, to surrender, to trust, and I finally realized that I’m not alone. God put me in a wonderful place.” Today he is spending every weekend with his son and he’s working full time.
Debbie’s father was an alcoholic and she was deeply affected by his addiction. Debbie suffered many traumatic events and became addicted to drugs. She said, “Because of my addictive behavior, I lost the most precious gifts that God has given me, my family.” Debbie started using meth when she was 37 and became homeless on the street. She knew that she needed help but couldn’t find the strength to enter treatment.
Debbie’s daughter put her on a train, and she fled her addictive environment. On February 3, 2014, she arrived at the front door of Bethel House with just the clothes on her back. Debbie said, “This is a Christian-based program and my new beginning in Jesus Christ has been my greatest inspiration.”
Debbie is in her final phase of treatment and has been restored to her family. She has gained the stability to maintain the principles of recovery and plans to remain strong in her faith.