Santa Barbara Rescue Mission focuses on rebuilding lives. Here are just a few stories.
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.
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.”