Santa Barbara Rescue Mission focuses on rebuilding lives. Here are just a few stories.
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.
Peter vividly recalls how everything started going black for him at the age of 12 . . . “I began to have a lot of depression,” he says. “The joy of life was sucked out of me. I became uncomfortable in my own skin and remember feeling an uncontrollable sadness that would plague my days.” That hopelessness led to repeated drug overdoses, suicide attempts—and losing everyone who ever loved him. Peter says, “I wondered why I was ever born and prayed God would allow me to fall asleep and never wake up . . .”
As a graduate of our state-certified, 12-month, residential recovery program, he says, “The moment I walked in here I believe was when the Lord Jesus took over my life. I spoke to the director and within minutes I was accepted into the program. Talk about a miracle!”
Peter says, “I definitely had not wanted to stay, but I looked at my grandfather who drove me here, and said, ‘I guess I’ll see you in a year.’ In all my life, I had never seen my grandfather cry, but on that day he cried all the way home. He told me this was one of the hardest things he had ever done, but he was so proud of me.”
That’s Peter’s story. As a successful graduate, he smiles now, and says, “I’m so grateful for having this chance at a new life. I would never have been able to do this without the support from the Mission and the love of God.” Wondering aloud, he says, “I love being sober! And I am so thankful for all God has done in my life. And to those who donate their time and gifts to the Mission, you are my heroes.”
Peter graduated from our proven recovery program in January 2010, receives his B.A. in Psychology from Antioch University this summer, and has met and married the love of his life at a local church.
Mariah’s parents divorced when she was very young. Her mother moved out and her father became a single parent of five. She remembers her childhood as being chaotic and she felt she was lost in the shuffle. Mariah wasn’t comfortable in social settings; yet, she could get straight As in school. Unfortunately, her desire to fit in was so strong that she would do anything to fulfill that need.
Mariah began to attend parties after she graduated from high school. She fell in love and became consumed with her new relationship. She now had a boyfriend and a new group of friends. “If I drink and use, I will fit in and finally be accepted,” Mariah concluded. Her new lifestyle led to homelessness and the county jail. She was ordered to a one-year program and applied to Bethel House.
Mariah entered the program last May. “My heart was still with someone in jail, so I wasn’t working an honest program,” she remembers. She was exited from the program but reapplied after 30 days. This was her turning point and she fully committed herself to recovery. Mariah has completed the program, and we immediately hired her to be our program clerk and provide night security at Bethel House.
Jason had a hard time paying attention in school and was diagnosed with ADD at a young age. He was good at sports and loved playing musical instruments. He remembers feeling different or “less than everyone else” and very alone within his own family. Jason was in junior high school when he took his first drink. “The sense of relief I felt was groundbreaking! All of my fears and discomfort were gone,” he said.
By the time Jason entered high school, he was also using cocaine, OxyContin, and injecting heroin with intravenous needles. He became homeless and resorted to stealing and selling drugs to support his habit. His mental health began to suffer because of the use of meth, and he went into a paranoid psychosis with auditory and visual hallucinations. Jason attempted to take his own life and thankfully was unsuccessful.
The criminal justice system ordered Jason to a six-month recovery program. Instead, he chose a one-year program and arrived at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission on August 15, 2013. Jason says, “Through the help of the volunteers who come to teach us the word, I was inspired to seek and grow closer to God.” He believes the extended period in the program allowed him to get back on his feet and find his own path. Jason is now enrolled at Santa Barbara City College to pursue a career in health education and personal fitness.
In beautiful, sunny Southern California, Kevin thought he had it all, even playing high school football with John Elway. “I was like the life of the party,” he remembers. “The class clown type of guy. It was fun . . . until it got painfully worse. They say it is a progressive disease,”says Kevin about his alcohol and substance abuse, which began during those high school years. “And it finally caught up with me. I lost everything. I didn’t know where to go . . .”
“My wife left me, I lost my job, my car. I was destitute. It was horrible, the homeless scene out there: there’s drinking, people fighting, asking for cigarettes. Luckily my grown daughter knew about the Mission,” he says, and smiles for the first time in a long time. “I wanted to get into the Mission so bad,”Kevin recalls.“I came through the homeless line for days, then I got into volunteering,”he remembers—and it was just the lifeline he needed.
Perhaps most importantly, Kevin says, “I lost touch with God, but now since I’ve been here in a Christian-based program I’m finally getting that connection back.” Kevin’s on his way to a healthy, productive life because he found strength and hope in Christ at Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
As a boy, Travis came here to listen to his father’s band play music at the Mission. But Travis isn’t a kid anymore. His hunger, his hurt, and his homelessness are an adult nightmare… For Travis it started early. When he was just 12, he followed a few friends into drinking and substance abuse, and almost didn’t find his way out again. “I reached a pretty dark place.” And for 13 long years, that dark place was all he knew.
Travis says, “I’m a blackout drinker… at any time the consequences could be I would die. Finally, I knew that if I didn’t do something drastic, I was going to end up just that way.” That’s when he came back to the Mission for a meal––and stayed to transform his life. Travis says, “It’s overwhelming to go from homeless and detoxing to taking the action needed to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. That’s why I’m so grateful for being able to fix my life at this place, with the perfect balance between structure and freedom. There’s so much good Christian teaching to provide a context … and the resources to make the changes I need. That is huge.”
Travis is reunited with his family and on track to receive full custody of his five-year-old son in just two months. He is currently employed and clear of all legal charges.
Please listen to Travis’ graduation speech:
Krista started drinking when she was 12 and was able to keep it “under control” throughout her school years by drinking on the weekends. At the end of her senior year, Krista was introduced to cocaine and speed, but these did not have the grip on her that alcohol did. After graduation, she was unable to maintain her college education and went on a seven year drinking binge.
In June of 2005, Krista was hospitalized with pancreatitis and alcoholic hepatitis. Unfortunately, this did not stop her and she plunged deeper into her addiction by adding meth to her drug use. She was homeless and made several failed attempts at recovery. When she came to Bethel House last year, she realized that she didn’t have a solid foundation. “I didn’t have faith that God had me in His hands. It wasn’t the first step that I had been struggling with, but it was step three which is making a decision to turn my life over to the care of God,” she said. “It took some suffering and willingness to get honest with myself, take down my walls, and accept Jesus Christ as my savior.”
Krista is currently attending Santa Barbara City College and pursuing a lifelong dream of a career in wildlife conservation and management.
Tish made it to the Mission after lying alone and abandoned behind a building for five days, certain she would die there …
Imagine those days and nights in the open filled with pain and fear! With emotion flooding her voice, Tish says, “After years of abuse, and no place left to go, I lay there detoxing all by myself … and there was a moment there I fully expected to be my last. “But somehow I survived. And I knew that if God didn’t take me then, there was a reason for me to be alive. Two women I met told me about Bethel House at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.”
Today, Tish has turned her life around! She’s clean, sober, safe from the streets. And she’s even returning to the Mission today, not as a guest, but to give back—“I’m helping others,” she smiles, “And it’s helping me stay grounded too. To serve here keeps your compassion fresh.”
Lili didn’t recognize the eyes staring back at her — burning a hole through her soul . . . She was shocked. She was pained. By the cutting glares. But nothing compared to the shame she felt, when Lili finally realized that the menacing stranger glowering at her . . . was her own reflection . . . It was a moment of clarity that, I’m sure, Lili will never forget. A moment when she could finally hear the truth in her mother’s pleas — “Lili, please. You need to get help. You need help to get free. Please, Lili. I don’t even know who you are anymore . . .”
As a little girl, I don’t believe that Lili ever wished for her addiction. I don’t think she ever hoped or dreamed that she would one day be an addict. But it happened — before she even realized it was happening. It began with a single pill intended to soothe the blinding pain of a migraine. However, that single pill sent Lili on a crash course of addiction that ripped apart her relationships and every shred of her self-respect. With nowhere else to go . . . with no other options . . . and with the weight of the shame and guilt of her addiction on the verge of destroying her life . . . Lili came to Santa Barbara Rescue Mission for help — desperately hoping for a miracle.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me the opportunity to be at Santa Barbara Rescue Mission,” Lili says. “The Mission has given me so many life-changing experiences. I’ve been given a great miracle . . . another chance to live and a newfound faith in God. I believe because of this program.”
Today, the old Lili is gone. And the new, transformed Lili is clean for the first time in a long time. And she’s eager to begin her brand new life — with her broken relationships now mended. And her mom . . . she couldn’t be prouder.
Ashley was born in Los Alamitos, California, in 1992. Both of her parents struggled with addiction, and she followed in their footsteps. She began using drugs in the sixth grade. This eliminated the pain from the loss of her father, the lack of acceptance from her mother, and the sexual abuse suffered at the hand of her grandfather. Ultimately, her drug of choice became methamphetamines. “They ruined who I was and created a monster who thought she was invincible,” she remembers.
Ashley spent most of her adult life in the county jail and was facing an eight year prison sentence. The court granted her the opportunity to come to Bethel House as an alternative to sentencing. She was able to work through the anger and hatred that consumed her. Now she no longer sees herself as a victim and will not allow herself to be victimized. “I used to hate my grandfather; now I pray for him. God has forgiven me so I can forgive him,” she stated. Ashley shared her powerful testimony at her graduation this month and is determined to maintain her recovery.
Please listen to the recent graduates express their gratitude for what they gained in our 12-month residential recovery program.
Two of our graduates share their personal stories at each graduation ceremony. This is Peter’s story of recovery.
Erika’s childhood was golden—full of love . . . laughter . . . and magic memories. The family would gather from miles around. She would romp through the house with her cousins. All in all, it was the stuff of fairy tales. But one day suddenly, the fairy tale ended. Erika’s parents divorced—and her world fell to pieces.
She went looking for love in all the wrong places. She started using drugs. And then she lost control. Family gatherings became a nightmare . . . Erika wasn’t welcome and she knew it—all she lived for was just one more fix. And then one Christmas she landed in the hospital . . . her body so ravaged by drugs that she needed emergency help. God in His mercy had a plan for Erika. When hope seemed lost, He led her to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
“It was the only opportunity left,” Erika remembers, “but it was the best thing ever. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about this place.” She’s a whole new woman today. Just listen to her—“I’m not a thief anymore,” she says. “I don’t have needles in my arms. I love my life today. I wake up every day with a smile on my face. I can be a good friend. I have a whole new relationship with my family.”
L.B. Chandler was born in Lafayette, Louisiana. At age eight, after the divorce of his parents, L.B. moved to Lompoc, California, with his father and stepmother. Although he was a three-year varsity letterman and captain of his high school football team, he struggled with drugs and alcohol. This struggle would continue into adulthood, leading L.B. down the dark path of addiction for the next seven years, during which he experienced the loss of many meaningful relationships, several attempts in rehab, and multiple incarcerations.
In the fall of 2004, L.B. entered the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s 12-month residential treatment program, where he took an honest look at his life choices, established relationships with others in recovery, and gained the tools for living life clean and sober. Upon completion of the program, L.B.was hired by SBRM as the Program Technician, later transitioning into the role of Treatment Counselor, and, for the last two years, he has held the position of Men’s Program Director. L.B. has completed the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Program (A.D.C.) at Santa Barbara City College, holds a CATC II State Certification and continues to further his education.
L.B. currently lives in Summerland with his wife Darlene and his nine-year-old son, L.J. He enjoys working out, reading a good book, attending L.J.’s football games, and cheering for Alabama football (Roll Tide!).
Dan just turned 31 this month and received his GED on Monday. Over the last several months, he worked diligently in the Learning Center with our volunteer tutor, Jane Blair. He shares, “It felt good to accomplish something, especially my high school diploma, which took me over 16 years to do.”
Dan has been in the Mission’s 12-month Residential Recovery Program for nine months and just entered the fourth phase of treatment, which includes finding employment. “I’m applying for jobs, and I feel more confident that I’ll get a job now that I have my diploma,” he explains. Dan intends to continue his education at Santa Barbara City College. He is planning to take automotive classes that will give him the certification to complement the experience he already possesses.
Distress rarely keeps a schedule. At SBRM, we never know when a desperate person will arrive and what their particular need might be. This is most evident during the night—when most of us are sleeping comfortably at home—where for the past year our Night Security Clerk, Tom Melody, has rarely worked an uneventful shift.
In addition to maintaining vigil over the entire facility so 175 people can sleep in safety, Tom has routinely been charged with responding to some of the most challenging circumstances: individuals finding themselves without shelter; law enforcement trying to get someone to safety; sick people in need of medical attention; scared people desiring security. We are so grateful for his faith, compassion, dependability and clear judgment in the midst of unexpected and severe needs.
This month, we celebrate how God has led Tom from being a guest in need of shelter, to being a volunteer assisting with our nightly services, to being the paid employee responsible for the facility, to being presented with a new “dream job” opportunity as the live-in caretaker at Rancho La Patera & Stow House.
Tom, we miss you already, but are so grateful for your dedicated service and excited for your new position. We trust this will involve many more uneventful evenings than you may have gotten used to around here.