Many stories of people recovering from homelessness and its causes begin The Midnight Mission. Some are wonderful, while others are heartbreaking. The Midnight knows that giving those in need the tools to get back on their feet doesn’t mean the process will be easy. In fact, perhaps nobody knows this better than our employees, many of whom are actively in recovery, are graduates of The Midnight’s programs or were homeless themselves.
I started volunteering at The Midnight Mission (when I got sober) in 1993 as a holiday volunteer. I had lost everything, hit bottom and was in the process of rebuilding my life. There was a group of people from my home group coming down to volunteer, and I just followed what everyone else was doing. Plus, I was interested in The Midnight because I have always had a deep and profound fear of being homeless. In fact, it has been one of my greatest fears most of my life. This seemed like a good way to face my fear head-on.
When I would volunteer here, I felt a kinship with the people here on our streets yet felt completely powerless to help in any way. It was heartbreaking. I had been living paycheck to paycheck for most of my life. I knew that could be me, or anyone else for that matter, that was homeless and living on our streets. In 2009, after being on disability with a back injury, it was time to get back into the work force. Since I had always felt the pull to be here, I called the Volunteer Coordinator and asked if I could start volunteering until I found a job.
The more time I spent here, the more I saw how much hope there is and how many services are available to our community. I have witnessed countless extraordinary acts of kindness by our community, staff and volunteers. I started to hear the stories of the people we serve and was able to see first-hand that lives were being changed. My fear of homelessness dissipated. I was hired as a full-time employee in 2010 – seventeen years after I had first volunteered. I have since had that opportunity to work with some of the finest people on the planet that genuinely care about our community and give selflessly of themselves daily.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to start a few programs here: Music With A Mission, Art With A Mission and Laughter With A Mission. These programs are aimed at bringing our community together through music and art. Working here really keeps things in perspective for me. It is a loud and clear reminder of my many blessings and what is important. I have a life that is filled with love and not love that is measured by the love others may feel for me, but by the immense love I have for so many people in my life. In addition, I met my musical partner, Ken Perry, here in 2010. He was a volunteer for one of the Music With A Mission programs.
I am involved in a 12 step program that has saved my life. Through the fellowship, I have been given a way to live. I have been able to clean up the wreckage of my past, mend relationships and live my life with integrity. I have been given the opportunity to speak all over the world, sharing my experience, strength and hope, which includes my involvement here at TMM. I have seen how my experience can help others. I don’t think there is a greater gift than being able to help someone else.
I’ve had so many memorable moments here and have been touched by the stories of our guests and clients. There is so much hope and love against a back drop of despair and tragedy. Some days, I just have to cry. I figure the day I stop crying is the day I need to find another job and/or check my pulse to be sure I am still alive.
I have met many wonderful people here. There is Ed, “the balloon man,” who is somehow transformed to normal while bending balloons for others. There is Elzie, “the homeless comedian”, who is truly funny and talented and lives on our streets. There was Leonard and Tony, who used to help me set up and clean up after each of my events. One year, during the Christmas season, there was a woman in the lobby charging her wheel chair. Both of her legs had been amputated, and she said she was hungry. It was in between meals, so I got her some cookies and a drink. When she reached her arms out of her coat to take the drink, I saw that she had no hands! I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked to see that people like her are homeless and left to fend for themselves on our streets. She was gracious and thankful for the gesture. I will never forget her.
There is Ron, Jay, May, Black Kennedy Lincoln and so many more that attend our events and are always so thankful. Bridgette, a beautiful woman who lives on our streets and attends our events, wrote a poem about the Music With A Mission program. It ended with these words: “Even though I am homeless, the pretty musical notes gently remind me that life is so dear. When I hear the symphony, a smile on my face appears. Yes, I have had my share of heartaches, but one thing is clear. Thanks to the musicians, this has still been my very best year.”
Today my life has meaning and purpose thanks to my sobriety and The Midnight Mission.
Director of Public Affairs
If you ask Clancy Imislund what brings him back to The Midnight Mission day after day, the witty response you may get is “the 10 freeway”. At 90 years old, Clancy is still at the top of his game. Known worldwide for his leadership in the 12-step community and his affiliation with The Midnight, he is very much, a man on the move. This year marks his 40th year as Managing Director of The Midnight and what a remarkable journey it has been.
Clancy Imislund was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1927. At the tender age of fifteen he left home and joined the Merchant Marines, marking his sixteenth birthday in Pearl Harbor. At the age of 17, he joined the U.S. Navy. It wasn’t until he enrolled in college after the war, that Clancy began drinking and gaining more of a dependence on alcohol. When asked how his addiction began, he states that he began drinking with the other Veterans (even though he didn’t particularly like the taste) because it was the thing to do. Unfortunately little by little, alcohol slowly took control of his life and after a 15 year downhill battle he found himself alone and penniless on the streets of Skid Row, He had lost everything; his job, friends and his family. Only the clothes on his back and portable typewriter remained, which he pawned for ten dollars so he could function a bit longer.
On October 31, 1958, Clancy was thrown out of The Midnight after a brief scuffle…and no one dreamed that one day he would return to become the organizations leader. Back out on the street again, Clancy came to the realization that he had finally hit bottom. His recovery began by walking 71 blocks, in the rain, to an alcoholic rehabilitation center on Wilshire and Fairfax. Upon entering, he was asked if he was willing to do what it took to get his life back, and this time Clancy simply answered “yes”. Under the instruction of a mentor, Clancy found a job, a plan of life and began his journey on the road to recovery. After five years of sobriety and laborious progress on his part, his wife made the decision to return to him. He made his way back into the workaday world and after some time became an executive at KHJ radio and television in Los Angeles. It was during this time that he began working with alcoholics and speaking to civic groups about alcoholism and rehabilitation. He had found his passion in helping others get their lives back.
Fast forward to 1974, a member of the Board of Directors of The Midnight asked Clancy if he knew of any candidates that were qualified for the Managing Director position. He could find no one that would take the job, and decided to do it himself on an interim basis. But Clancy was so effective that he stayed on permanently.
Over the years Clancy has had a profound impact on The Midnight and in the lives of the thousands of men who have come through these doors. He was responsible for bringing the 12-step philosophy to The Midnight, establishing our organization as one of the first providers of addiction treatment on Skid Row. Clancy has said that what we do “is the difference between giving a hungry person a fish and teaching them how to fish”.
Never one to mince words, Clancy is known for his direct, no-nonsense demeanor, but also for his approachability. He always seems to have the time to listen and provide a few words of wisdom when asked. To say that Clancy is the heart and soul of The Midnight would be an understatement. We salute and thank Clancy for his endless dedication and service to The Midnight and to people in recovery worldwide.
When Ben Shirley came to The Midnight Mission in May 2011, he didn’t know where he was going or how he got there. His friends had tired of watching him die so they got him up, told him to say good-bye to all his belongings and drove him downtown’s skid row to drop him off at The Midnight Mission. He had no idea what would happen…what did happen would change his life forever and the lives of those around him.
TMM’s healthy living program is based on a social model, meaning you must get up and ‘go to work.’ Ben’s first work therapy assignment was washing dishes, where, soaking wet from tears and dirty dishwater he found himself consumed with rage at where his life had ended up. Once a bass player in a hard rock band with a record deal playing to sold out stadiums with some of the biggest names, he felt his life was now officially over. That’s when the executive chef gave him the opportunity to organize the dry goods stock room; an assignment he would take personally. He found purpose in the responsibility and ran with it. He had surrendered to the process and in doing so, started down a path that would change him forever and introduce him to a life beyond his wildest dreams.
When Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell started his now infamous running club, Ben joined to lose weight. He had run marathons before, but that seemed like a lifetime ago. On the first run, he got as far as Crocker, threw up and started crying again. But once the club had started to gain momentum, and he got some shoes that fit, Ben began to run with a passion he had not felt in a long time; a passion that he started to bring into the rest of his new life. In 2013, he would complete the Los Angeles Marathon and Accra International Marathon in Ghana, Africa, among other organized runs, with Judge Mitchell and The Midnight Runners. This would also be the same year his music would take a sudden turn and begin to transform from the stage to the classroom, from playing to composing.
In March of 2015, Ben was among the twenty-five runners; five TMM graduates, three current participants and the rest members of the community that ran the Maratona di Roma in Rome, Italy. That race was different; he didn’t, for the 1st time ever, feel as if he had to run his fastest. Instead, he was able to experience the miracle happen for the others in the club. He was able to share with the new guys the life changing journey, the transformation that occurs when running a marathon in another country. He was able to slow down, take it all in, see how far the club has come and the way it was transforming lives. That was when he chose to announce that he had been accepted into the San Francisco Music Conservatory.
Ben entered the San Francisco Music Conservatory in fall 2015. Since then he has worked hard to maintain a 3.45 GPA. He is currently working on an orchestra piece for his TAC (Technology and Applied Composition) program, he is Student Body/Council Chairperson, leads a volunteer program at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and heads a running club. If that isn’t enough, Ben also maintains four jobs.
In Ben’s words: “The Midnight Mission gave me the opportunity to make decisions but also to fall on my face. Failure was always an option, but the opportunity to succeed was greater.” In much the same way his running has evolved so has his music. He used to be all about the money; now he is ok just being a musician. “I want to learn today; I didn’t want that before. Maybe I’ll be a teacher.”
Ben is proof that it’s never too late to create a new beginning. We are so proud of all that Ben has done and we look forward to seeing what the future holds.
Like most recovering addicts in our Healthy Living Program, Randy V. has struggled with addiction pretty much his whole life. The youngest of 4 siblings, Randy was born and raised in Ontario, CA. by his single Mother. Although he came from a good family and didn’t have any tragic things happen to him, Randy still found himself taking the wrong path and using drugs and alcohol at the young age of 15 years old, unlike his siblings who graduated High School and went off to pursue their careers and start families of their own. “I used to see all the older guys in the neighborhood shooting up and I’d say to myself, I’ll never do that. And then one day, someone offered it (heroin) to me, and I was hooked ever since.”
Randy started seeing the negative effects addiction had on his life when he was around the age of 19 years old. He had his first child at the age of 20, but couldn’t quit drugs and alcohol. Randy was what we call a functioning addict. He was still able to maintain a job at a Shell gas station and hide his addiction pretty well, even from his girlfriend and Mother of his child. Randy was in and out of jail and treatment programs for periods of time. He was with the same woman and mother of his 4 children for 15 years until she passed away in 2005 from a brain aneurism. This weighed heavy on Randy, especially because he was in jail during her passing and the guilt he felt of not being there for his daughters.
Randy tried so many times to remain clean and sober but nothing clicked until he came to The Midnight Mission. He got tired of lying and hurting those he loved. In September 2013, Randy came to Los Angeles in hopes of getting into a neighboring shelter. He had all the paperwork filled out, but they didn’t have a bed available for him. He would come to The Midnight Mission to eat breakfast and one day he ran into a guy he recognized that was working security. The man told him about the Healthy Living program that The Midnight Mission had to offer to those on their path to self-sufficiency. That following Friday, Randy came back and has been here ever since.
Since he’s been at The Midnight Mission, Randy has learned how to remain clean and sober, the right way. He has learned more and more about the disease of his addiction. “I see guys that have been here as long as me, if not longer and all it takes is that one drink to put them back on the streets again. And that helps me to continue on. For once in my life I’m at peace with where I’m at. I don’t look back on life, unless it’s to see how far I’ve come.” Randy graduated from our Healthy Living Program in November 2014 and received his Certificate of Completion of drug and alcohol courses through CCAPP (California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals) in hopes to become a Drug & Alcohol counselor one day. He is also in the process of testing for his High School Diploma and is very eager to achieve that.
Staying clean and sober has helped Randy to reunite with his daughters and maintain a relationship with them again. In December 2014, his youngest daughter reached out to him through an email and they’ve been in contact ever since. “I haven’t told them about what I’ve accomplished yet, because I don’t want to continue to make promises to them that I can’t keep. They’ve been hurt enough. I want to prove it to them this time. I’m now getting invited to my Grandson’s birthday party, something I never thought would happen. I’m just happy to be back in their lives again, any way that I can.”
After volunteering and showing his strong effort and merit at California Hospital, Randy was offered a position and hired on as an Environmental Specialist, cleaning and organizing the closet where they store the donations that they receive. He also interns here at The Midnight Mission filing paperwork and doing intakes on new participants under the supervision of our Healthy Living Advocate, Rita Richardson.
“I’ve been in a lot of treatment programs and The Midnight Mission is the best one out here in Los Angeles. It may be in the worst area, but it’s the best program. The Midnight Mission has helped me with my education and court issues. The things they do for us on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, make staying sober a lot easier. Every day isn’t perfect, but if you can come in and sit still and adapt to what The Midnight Mission has to offer, you’re good. I couldn’t have done any of the things I’ve accomplished without the help from everyone here and my higher power God, of course. “
A book on the horrors of drug addiction could easily be written about Bobbie’s life. At the early age of ten, she had her first taste of alcohol. “I remember adding vodka to my grape juice in my little Tasmanian devil cup.” Not long after, at age thirteen, a friend introduced her to speed. The powder in a baggie set her on a path to ruin.
It was hard enough with her parents being divorced and Bobbie bouncing back and forth between them. Her mother, a binge drinker, had left for Alabama with a boyfriend and lost custody of her. Bobbie had always been closer to her mother, which made her the ‘Black Sheep’ at her father’s house. Between that and the influence of speed, she began running away. “If I didn’t like something, I would just leave,” she remembers. This would set a pattern she would repeat throughout her life.
One year later, at age fourteen, Bobbie was arrested for fighting. She was placed in a home which gave her structure and consistency. “I was doing okay until I started going back home on weekend visits,” Bobbie recalls. “My sister and I started snorting speed.” By her sophomore year, Bobbie was back at home and hiding her addiction well. “But inside I felt rotten, like a garbage can.” Her drinking was a problem, too.
To compound all of the negativity, Bobbie became pregnant with her first son. Six months after his birth, Bobbie’s mother, who had finally found sobriety, passed away. Now Bobbie’s addiction to speed escalated. Her relationship with her child’s father was toxic and rife with domestic violence. Two children later, with a total of three, Bobbie sought safety at a domestic violence shelter but eventually moved back into the toxic household. After being stabbed in the arm and cut on the neck in front of her children, Bobbie took her children to a domestic violence shelter in Big Bear and found some refuge in classes on dysfunctional families and therapy. She was hesitant to testify against her husband, but realized she had no choice when they informed her that he was going to be released.
No longer using, Bobbie finally got her first apartment at age 26. Considering herself sober because she was off speed, she was still drinking. Then, again, she was reintroduced to speed by a co-worker. Her apartment became the scene of many parties, and she was also dealing drugs. Her neighbors consistently complained, and the police visited regularly. “I had an inheritance of $56,000, which I blew through in six months. I used some of that money to send my kids to my ex-husband’s sister in Mexico for a short vacation. After some dishonesty by their aunt, they were trapped there for ten months,” Bobbie remembers. “I wanted to clean myself up before they came back.” Instead, Bobbie’s drug use escalated as she tried to get her kids back. She lost her apartment and became homeless.” I stopped talking to my kids. It was too hard,” she says. “I was doing ecstasy and whatever drugs I could get; I had no one for support.”
Bobbie ended up moving in with a man she met. At that time, her sister was trying to facilitate the move of Bobbie’s children back from deep in Mexico. She was eventually successful. However, Bobbie’s outstanding warrants caught up with her in an ironic way. “I woke up one morning to deputies and guns,” she says. “I was arrested on Mother’s Day, and I didn’t even realize it.” A further irony was the fact that at the moment she was being arrested, her kids were coming back to the U.S. It was bittersweet.
In jail, Bobbie stayed sober and behaved, “I always did well in structured settings,” she now acknowledges. After being released, she stayed with a friend managing in her words to, “stay dry but not sober.” In Big Bear, after an altercation in a house she was staying in but told to leave, the police took her aside and told her to leave Big Bear. “The cops knew me by name then,” Bobbie recalls.“Big Bear was my sanctuary, but I turned it into the devil’s den.” She moved in with her sister, where her children had been staying. Bobbie managed to stay sober for a while.
With her life patterns repeating, Bobbie met a man and became pregnant. The ironic timing repeated as well. “I was then arrested on a warrant in San Bernardino.” The man she was dating was now taking care of her three children. “I used to tell men that I was damaged goods,” she exclaims. “When I was in jail I found out I was pregnant.” This situation spiraled down as her boyfriend was arrested for stealing cars. Out of jail with no place to go, Bobbie and her children went from motel to shelter to motel. When her boyfriend was released, they managed to find an apartment that was affordable. She had her baby and isolated herself. “I was trying to stay sober,” Bobbie says.
With her fourth child just four months old, Bobbie relapsed again. Not surprisingly, there were domestic violence issues. “He went back to jail, and I lost the apartment. It was then I realized that I had a problem with speed and needed help,” Bobbie admits.
Still using and bouncing from friend to friend, her sister had given up on Bobbie. While at a shelter in Skid Row, someone called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). At that time her three oldest children were at her sister’s, and her baby was with her at a shelter. DCFS approached Bobbie and her baby daughter and realized the obvious; Bobbie was under the influence of drugs. They took custody of her baby and all three of her children who had been living at her sister’s. Bobbie’s children were separated and placed in homes in Corona, Lancaster, Granada Hills and West L.A. This was around mid-June of 2014. Bobbie made the commitment to become sober and drug-free on June 13. “That’s the moment I changed,” Bobbie says. “I was hanging out on San Pedro Street in Skid Row crying.”
Knowing the only direction left to go was up, Bobbie found a 12 step program and began working the program at Mini-House to achieve complete sobriety. By September, having stayed drug and alcohol-free and employed, she was awarded custody of her baby daughter by the judge. “I didn’t want my baby to affect my program, so I found a daycare for her. She was comfortable there from the first time I took her,” Bobbie says. “I was six months inpatient before going into sober living. That was the process.”
Through her 12 step work at Mini-House, Bobbie encountered Rebecca, her ‘sobriety sister.’ Rebecca was in HomeLight Family Living, a program offered by The Midnight Mission to families transitioning out of homelessness. “My sponsor requested a referral and my DCFS worker was very helpful,” Bobbie remembers. “It was hard for me. I had never had all four of my kids while sober. I remember moving in on October 15, and my youngest daughter saw the playground and was so excited. It felt normal like it was my home.”
Now, with full custody of her children, a job and money saved, Bobbie’s life is stable and happy. “I go to meetings. I work with my sponsor. When there’s time, I would like to be more of service,” she says. “I’m trying to transition out of HomeLight, yet it’s difficult to afford a two bedroom place with my children,” she admits. Yet, she remains hopeful. “I have a good amount of savings and a job. I am forever grateful to The Midnight Mission for programs like this. I was given a chance when I really needed it.”
Safe, secure and sober in The Midnight Mission’s HomeLight Family Living Program, Bobbie has a job to support her four children. She is able to be a good mother to her two sons and two daughters, who range in age from five to eighteen years. “I’ve come full circle. I’m a fully functional member of society now,” Bobbie says. At age 37, this is the first time she can say that.
For more information on HomeLight Family Living, visit midnightmission.test/our-services/homelight.
In the years since he started volunteering at The Midnight Mission in 2002, Hal Bookbinder has expanded his Jobs Interviewing Skills Workshop from a three to five session course to a twelve session course. He has also taken his course to our HomeLight Family Living facility. At HomeLight, he teaches a nine-session course to the adults in our program. Hal said, “Fellow volunteers help me teach the classes, conduct mock interviews and assist participants with their resumes.” Hal enjoys what he does, “I believe we are helping the participants in their professional progress and continued sobriety. This is highly rewarding to me.”
Hal’s course at The Midnight Mission targets participants who have demonstrated progress in their 12-step recovery. They gain valuable knowledge to get them ready for work from identifying their target job, interview preparation, social media and networking to success on the job itself. Hal emphasizes, “Addiction is not the defining characteristic of the participants. It is one factor, but they have so many strengths and potential on which they can build.” Hal proudly points to the fact that 80% of his course graduates leave The Midnight employed. “I feel enriched by seeing others recognize their value and succeed.”
When he is not helping those in recovery put down new roots, Hal enjoys genealogy, where he studies his family roots. “I speak at conferences and genealogical meetings and have led various genealogical organizations.” Reflecting on his childhood, Hal notes, “My grandparents and parents owned various small hospitality businesses, including bars. The debilitating impacts of addiction on customers, friends and family members made a lasting impression on me.”
With that firsthand understanding of addiction, Hal points to one of his proudest moments at The Midnight Mission. “In 2009, the Ventura County Star ran an article on the program in which a participant stated that before taking the course, he didn’t think he was good enough to get a job. He said, “I learned how to pass an interview, build confidence in myself and stay positive on job search going through Hal’s class. Hal made me see that I am somebody regardless of my addiction or previous life experiences. I would be dead or in jail if it weren’t for The Midnight Mission and Hal.” “The Midnight Mission’s structured program helped him get his life back,” Hal says.
For more information on our programs, visit www.midnightmission.org.
A Los Angeles native and soon to be a great-grandmother, Doris Starling has worked with the homeless community for 29 years and loves the work she now does at The Midnight Mission. She smiles, “It allows me the freedom to work with the homeless community with a more humanistic approach.”
In 2016, Doris began her work with The Midnight Mission at their HomeLight Family Living Program helping homeless families on the path to self-sufficiency. She is now the Executive Director and Site Manager for The Midnight Mission’s OC Courtyard. Thus far, it has been her most memorable experience working for The Midnight Mission. “We took a bus terminal without walls and turned it into a shelter that sleeps up to 400 homeless people a night. It is a blessing to be able to do that” she says with satisfaction. “We love our ‘Mission’ and everything it stands for.”
The Midnight Mission, partnering with Orange County, opened The Courtyard on October 5, 2016, at the former Santa Ana Transit Terminal at 400 W. Santa Ana Boulevard in Santa Ana.
More than a shelter from the elements, the Courtyard is a safe and secure environment offering needed services to people who are experiencing homelessness. The facility includes open table feeding areas as well as hydration and hygienic services including restrooms and a mobile shower unit. It is a safe space. “We have security here,” Doris says, “but they’re not guards. What we have are ‘engagers’, ” and they know all of our guests by name.”
At first glance, it is an intense vast space, a literal sea of beds and the homeless community of Orange County are gratefully taking refuge here. Some are with their pets, some are college students, and others are veterans. Doris Starling and her team are here to help them all. She says, “It is so peaceful here and so quiet. People tell me all the time that they feel safe here. To create that kind of environment is what gets me up every morning.”
To learn more about The Courtyard, please visit www.midnightmission.org/thecourtyard.