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!
When I was 8 years old, I was put into group homes for behavioral problems. For 10 years, I was a ward of the court and when I turned 18, I was released with no emancipation skills. I had to learn how to survive on my own and fell into the drug scene. In 2011, after 22 years, I made a big change and moved to Santa Monica. One week after my move, I talked to a police officer that told me about Step Up on Second. I have was housed and have since refurbished the art program and run two art groups a week. I was elected Tenant Advisory Committee President, and started a business as a costume character. My future goals include continuing my therapy at Step Up on Second and Edelman, and growth of art program. I would also like to work on becoming an Art Coordinator for those experiencing mental health issues, expand my business, and continue to be happy. One of my favorite quotes is “immerse yourself in inspiration.” I hope to continue doing so.
For more than a decade, a gentleman experiencing homelessness and mental health issues had taken over a bus shelter in the Fairfax area. Over the years, he’d amassed a rising mountain of boxes and bags. The situation was no longer acceptable-for him or the community. “The first time I met him at his bus stop, he was sitting, as usual, with his back to the street, keeping an eye on his belongings piled high behind the shelter” recalls Step Up’s Cynthia Langley, LCSW, left. After Langley explained why she was there, the gentleman said flatly: “I’m not interested.” “Would you mind if I came back?” Langley asked. He turned his back on her. But she returned anyway, day after day. “This individual is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s loved one,” says Langley – herself a grandmother of four. “And I’m stubborn enough not to take no for an answer.” After four months, a trusted partnership developed and the gentleman decided to move from this bus stop to his own unit in one of Step Up’s permanent supportive housing communities – with a committed and compassionate team behind him.
I have been a member of Step Up for three and a half years. When I came to Step Up, I started attending Step Up group meetings two or three times a week and had my own counselor to meet with regularly. The groups cover topics ranging from developing life skills to creative writing and poetry reading.
At Step Up, I could practice being myself again with others, as I emerged from my struggles with mental illness. The positive interaction shifted my focus from profound isolation to being with others again. I felt a sense of community in the groups I attended. It reminded me of my high school days when I was familiar and joined with my peers.
Step Up provides a creative and learning environment that helps keep me focused on my recovery and my potential. Now I am continuing with my healing and feel motivated to take on new challenges in the community.
I am pursuing educational goals and interests as I balance my life with other community involvement. Over the years, the social support at Step Up has made my reintegration strong and viable.
If you, or somebody you care about, suffer with a mental illness, consider Step Up. It helped me and it can help.
Evelyn’s untreated mental illness caused her to believe that the city bus on which she rode all night was her home.
After many months of careful relationship building, Evelyn finally allowed Step Up staff to show her one of the permanent supportive home units it develops and operates. Evelyn looked around and, exhausted, lay down on the bed. She fell sound asleep and rested safely and comfortable for the first time in decades.
Evelyn accepted the opportunity to make this Step Up apartment her new home. Since then, Evelyn has been surrounded by the supportive services and human relationships so important to sustaining long term housing for her. Evelyn’s overall health has dramatically improved, and she is a valued participant in the Step Up kitchen as part of the Vocational program. Says Evelyn, “This is MY HOME, and I love it!”
“And so goes my meteoric rise. In my new role as a leader at Step Up, I facilitate and mediate, now well aware from whence I came and where I can go. My peephole also looks back on the sideshow of yesterdays, which I sometimes recount to entertain my new circle of friends who take the promising ride with me.”
“… When I first became homeless, I was truly scared and very depressed about my situation. I had my best friend with me, my cat. I had only $2 and no idea where I would spend the night. So I went to the 3rd Street Promenade that night and just sat there. As they days went on, I found that some people I encountered were very concerned and the police were helpful with tips as to where to eat, etc. I had lost twenty pounds the first month I was homeless. I thought my situation would last between three to six months; instead, it was six years. It was very difficult having no place to spend private time and difficult getting used to people always looking at me with wondering looks. Some looks were of concern and some were of disgust. But you soon develop the attitude that these people don’t know you or where you have been in your life experience, so you just cannot worry about what they think. But the disapproving looks make you upset and they hurt.
One of the biggest problems I had was my belongings being stolen from where I had hidden them. I had a few day jobs, but it was difficult because many times my clothes would be taken. As time went on, it became easier to be homeless I had gotten used to the situation. And that was a very bad thing to have happen, because then you get accustomed to the situation you are in and just begin to make very little effort to change your circumstances. Then one day I was sitting in Memorial Park thinking about my situation and, believe it or not, praying for a home of my own. And these two people came and sat at the table alongside me, and the gentleman asked if I would care for half of his Quiznos sandwich, as if it was too much for him. Reluctantly, I said yes. These two individuals whom I have never seen before just happened to be outreach workers from Step Up. And that last day began a year of many new beginnings, which led to one of the most blessed years of my life; my getting a new home, new furniture, and retirement money from my husband’s death. But most of all, I got a wonderful renewed attitude about a hopeful future thanks to two people from Step Up who sat down to share a lunch with me.”
James was homeless for 3 years. He has a dual diagnosis of schizophrenia and alcohol dependency. James hears voices, has bouts of depression and he struggles with cravings for alcohol which provides a temporary respite from the voices he hears. After working diligently on his goals, James moved into his own apartment at Step Up after nearly eight years of being on the street. For the first time in years his eyes are bright and twinkling as he reports, “I’m very happy in my new apartment… I only hear (voices) one or two times per week instead of daily…” When he first moved into his apartment he was scared of being indoors and would have to leave in the middle of the night just to sit outside. After all, his voices told him he shouldn’t get an apartment. But he chose not to listen to them this time. He said his apartment has helped him control his drinking which has caused his medications to be more effective, which has caused his voices to decrease. James still struggles with his illness but he reports feeling good most of the time.
Mary, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, saw her marriage end in divorce and the departure of her four children with their Dad. Mary learned of Step Up and enrolled in our vocational training program. Working as a Fresh Start cashier, Mary gained valuable job skills that she was able to leverage into a regular position with a local coffee shop. She has used her experience to help teach others about mental illness. Today, Mary has been able to re-establish relationships with her children and has quit smoking.
Allen was homeless on and off for seven years. He had been diagnosed with severe depression. Life on the streets was hard and he knew he needed help. He found that finding a job was too difficult when you have to carry all your possessions with you. Allen heard about Step Up from others and decided he would try our program. Allen started attending and became more involved in Step Up services, attending groups, enrolling in our vocational program and he secured a job on-site at Step Up, performing maintenance. Through case management assistance, Allen secured a single apartment in Santa Monica and re-established visiting rights with his young daughter. “Step up on Second has been great for me; I have learned that sometimes you have to sacrifice your old friends and habits to get ahead. Don’t keep looking back, look forward.”
Thomas was living on the street and was admitted to the hospital in 1999 where he was told about Step Up by one of his doctors. He was scared and nervous about coming to Step Up, but became more comfortable after he spoke with a case manager and realized that there was hope for him. He started to come for breakfast and dinner at Step Up on Second a few times a week, and then was able to get housing in an apartment in the Los Angeles area with the help of his case manager. In the six years that Thomas has been a part of Step Up on Second, he has been able to put his life back together piece by piece.
Michael did not have anyone to turn to before he came to Step Up. He was living on the street, unsure of how to get out of the cycle of homelessness, but wanting to find a place of his own. When he heard about Step Up from a friend on the street, he knew it sounded like a place that could help him get his life in order. Michael did not know what to expect and says he was surprised at how friendly and helpful the staff were to him. Michael now lives in an apartment at Step Up, attends church regularly, and has a long term plan of finding himself a house that he can call his own.