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Not only are the stories of Step Up members inspiring and uplifting, so are the stories of its staff!
Monte Williams left, celebrating “homelessness ended” with City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2017.
My name is Monte, and this is a brief story of my recovery from alcohol and substance abuse and homelessness, and how Step Up has helped me to find a fulfilling life.
I’m a Vietnam Veteran who came to the West Los Angeles VA hospital for help in 2016 when I was mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally bankrupt. I had worked in the field of Human Services for over fifteen years helping others to recover. However, similar to a story in the AA Big book titled, “Physician Heal Thy Self;” I would tell others to trust the process of recovery, but I wouldn’t apply it to my own life. After losing self-respect, separating from family and friends, and becoming extremely depressed…I became suicidal. But, reaching down to my inner most self, I jumped into my car and drove straight to Los Angeles thinking a geographical cure would be the answer.
Upon my arrival in LA, thoughts of not knowing how to survive overwhelmed me, so I automatically turned to drink to alleviate my fears. I went to the streets looking for a liquor store. I saw a man with a shopping cart who appeared to be homeless. After discovering that I was a Veteran and from out a town, he pointed me to the VA Emergency to get help. The awakening I experienced on that day has propelled my life forward to what feels like another dimension.
I entered the Homeless Veterans Program at the West Los Angeles VA Hospital where I received treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. I then attended a trauma facility in Bay Pine Florida. When I returned from that treatment, I was given 60 days to find a place to live. Although I had previously been turned down for HUD-VASH housing, I applied a second time, and was accepted into the HUD-VASH program. I was offered an opportunity to move into one of Step Up’s permanent supportive housing unit in Bldg. 209 on the VA campus. As a tenant in Bldg. 209, not only did my homelessness end, but I was given opportunities that I would never have dreamed of. I was allowed to speak at the Bldg. 209 ribbon cutting ceremony, I was given the opportunity to have Mayor Garcetti visit my home, and I was invited to his. Finally, the Step Up staff saw something in me that I previously believed I didn’t deserve: a chance to work in the field I love so dearly….Human Service. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the CEO, Tod Lipka, and the entire Step Up staff for believing in me and granting me the opportunity to gain my credibility back with safe housing and employment. Thank you for your Support!
Nancy Fike, Service Coordinator I, San Bernardino County
Knowing that Step Up actually had a welcoming-day round table for those who started the program was impressive. But, after seeing the care and preservation of dignity each member received from the SC1’s, SC2, Nurses, and management; I knew that I made the right decision in coming on board to this great organization. Working with Step Up has enriched my life because homelessness and mental health issues are real; and without the opportunity to reach out to this population with permanent housing, they may be on the streets indefinitely. Thank you Step Up for the opportunity to come to work every day and make a difference–1 life at a time!
Andrew Liberman, Life Skills Coordinator, Step Up on Second
“I’m most inspired when a member’s face lights up on getting a housing placement. Their whole future is bright again.” –Andy Liberman, Life Skills Coordinator.
I first came to Step Up in 2004 through a program called AB2034 after being released from LA County Jail. At the same time that I became a member of Step UP, I enrolled in the St. Joseph’s Culinary Program and worked as an intern at the VA restaurant. (At that time I was also on dialysis for kidney failure, and waiting for a kidney transplant). Then Len, Sal, and Amy hired me in the kitchen as the first Fresh Start grill chef, where I worked for about a year, took leave, and shortly after got my kidney transplant. I was soon offered a job as receptionist and computer data person, where I worked for about two years.
The program manager in the CRC invited me to apply to the Peer Advocate training, I completed the training at WCIL, and I became a Peer Advocate at Step Up for about two years. Then, in the spring of 2016, Aaron invited me to apply for the Life Skills Coordinator position. I applied, was hired, and have been happily at this job as Life Skills Coordinator at Step Up since July, 2016! Since starting the position, I have been taking many training opportunities with the Department of Mental Health and other entities!
Rhonda Lynn Wise, Peer Advocate, Daniel’s Place
My name is Rhonda Lynn Wise, and I’m a Peer Advocate at Daniel’s Place.
About 10 years ago I found myself in a situation that I never thought I would be in; I was homeless. Through no fault of my own, a matter of circumstances that led me to that state. I was terrified. I knew absolutely nothing about what being homeless meant, nor where to find resources to help me in my situation. It was either sink or swim, and I decided to swim. A friend told me about a place in Los Angeles called PATH (People Assisting The Homeless). Through a case manager I was able to be placed in a very nice, Catholic run shelter called Good Shepherd. I then was placed in The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter, which is where I was able to save money in order to get a place of my own. During this time, however, I began to self-medicate. I was using street drugs because I thought if I could numb myself I wouldn’t have to feel the pain I was going through from being homeless, estranged from my family and embarrassed about my situation. I never thought that I would experience homelessness in my lifetime: I’m a college graduate from a wonderful family, I have supportive friends, and I have a strong faith in God. Homelessness was my hidden fear, and now I was facing it.
Throughout the time I was homeless, I always felt the need to help others by passing on any information about resources, sharing a meal, or just spending time talking to other homeless people who needed someone to talk to. All the while, I knew when I got back on my feet that I wanted to give back. Once I got into a home of my own, I began to focus on my life. I started attending NA meetings and other self-help groups. I found strength in going and, little by little, I began to see improvements in my life and prospects for my future.
In 2014, I completed a Peer Leadership Training Program at the Westside Center for Independent Living and received a certificate and an accommodation from Mayor Eric Garcetti for my volunteerism with the homeless community of Los Angeles. I knew I wanted to work with the homeless population and began to pursue a position with Step Up on Second. Early in 2017, I worked with Malcolm Carter who referred me to Daniel’s Place. After meeting with Maria Jeffery and finding out about the wonderful resources available to the TAY and the Young Adult community who are members, I was offered a position as a Peer Advocate in August of 2017. Daniel’s Place staff and the members are pretty awesome. We are a dynamic team, and I’m excited every day I come to work. I feel that my life experiences prepared me to affectively help the population we service at Daniel’s Place.
In 2018, I’m on track to finish my Master’s Degree in order to have growth potential with Step Up on Second. I want very much to be a part of this organization in the best possible way I can. I look forward to being involved and giving back because it enriches me and gives me a great sense of purpose. I love what I’m doing and I love where I work.
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