Many stories about people recovering from homelessness and its causes begin with The Midnight Mission. Some stories are uplifting, 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. 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.
Donald Holt has a passion for people experiencing homeless and has been working to help homeless individuals for over 14 years. After graduating from college, he became an outreach worker for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Donald also worked with CalWorks Families Project as a program manager and with Volunteers of America. Today, he is The Midnight Mission’s OC Courtyard’s Director.
Donald says, “working with and assisting people experiencing homelessness in different capacities and at all levels of the field has been an eye-opening, humbling, and extremely rewarding opportunity.” Donald works hard to ensure those who are underserved have a voice and receive the services they need with dignity and respect.
He says he loves to work for The Midnight Mission. The Midnight Mission has an over a 106-year track record for serving the homeless community in Skid Row, and Donald believes this foundation speaks volumes. Donald has seen a lot throughout his career, and he states, “TMM is an organization that continues to fight to end homelessness, and I am happy to be a part of that tradition.”
Donald loves to help give people the tools they need for a new beginning. One of Donald’s most memorable experiences while working with TMM was getting to witness one of the residents reunite with their family after being separated for ten years! The Midnight Mission has provided Donald with a place to fulfill his passionate purpose and we are grateful he is part of TMM family.
Albert Rivas came to The Midnight Mission in 2019, looking for a new start. He entered the Healthy Living Program, which is designed to help people learn how to live a life free from drugs and alcohol and become contributing members of society. Albert was motivated, determined, and optimistic about what the future might hold.
At The Midnight Mission, Albert found a foundation for his new life through our 12-step philosophy. He acknowledges part of getting back on his feet was accepting the mental health and housing help TMM offered. Albert took suggestions about how to do the next right thing and learned to take responsibility for his past and present actions.
During his first few months at TMM, Albert found it hard to adjust to others’ behaviors and personalities. A verbal disagreement discouraged Albert, and he wanted to leave. But, because he was on a new footing, his desire to change and live a better life exceeded his need to be right. He experienced spiritual growth as he placed principles before personalities and realized he only had the power to change himself.
In his first few months of being at TMM, he realized the program was working for him. He says he knows having people who were empathetic to his needs helped him be more patient in the relationships that he is now building. Coming from a broken home made him realize just how essential communication is. With patience and good communication, he has become a better father and is now a positive influence in his children’s lives. Albert thanks the staff of TMM for inspiring him and setting an example of the type of person he strives to be. Albert would especially like to thank Matt for his support and understanding, Donald for being patient, encouraging and helping him with problem-solving advice, and Ebony for being a good listener and advocate.
Albert is an active member of a 12-step fellowship, attending regular meetings and has even been approved by our Program Director to start his own 12-step recovery group here at TMM. He uses his life experiences to help others find freedom from addiction. He values his relationships with other people, and he likes to treat people the way he wants to be treated.
Albert plans to join TMMs 1201 Alumni Club to continue to give back and share with others how to utilize the tools he acquired through the 12 steps. He walked through the doors of TMM with only the clothes on his back and received not only food and shelter, but a new way of life. He knew he was in the right place. Albert now has a love for The Midnight Mission that no one can take from him. If there is anyone who is on the fence about coming into The Healthy Life Program, Albert has a word of advice: “Don’t give up. You will hit roadblocks. However, if you work hard, you can move forward from those roadblocks. Make sure you put in the work.”
Wendy Ordower from the Milken School has brought students to volunteer at The Midnight Mission for the past fifteen years. The mission of Milken School is to create a world in which every person is treated B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God – infinitely valuable, unique, and equal. With this core value in place, they are committed to building and embracing the community.
One of the ways to build community is through a partnership circle. The Midnight Mission is part of Milken’s circle, and they are willing to do whatever is needed to help The Midnight Mission bring hope to our neighbors in Skid Row.
The partnership between Milken and The Midnight Mission started with schoolwide days of service. The students first learn from an intellectual viewpoint, studying how to treat others with dignity and kindness, and the concept of taking care of others. The students are taught the importance of not separating from the community.
Before COVID-19, the students would come to TMM to have first-hand experience with people in the community. They would walk into the courtyard and see the 12 steps etched to the doorway. Once inside, they handed out food, picked up trays, or helped someone disabled get food. Being hands-on gave them an experience beyond what they could learn in a book. On the tour of the facility, they heard how people connected to God through the recovery process.
After leaving The Midnight Mission, the students have a period of reflection of what they saw and heard. One thing that set The Midnight Mission apart from other missions is that TMM is not faith-based, yet through the twelve-step philosophy, people had found the faith they need to recover.
At one of the visits to TMM, the students encountered a program participant in the small dining room. He had just received a new pair of shoes. The man’s joy overflowed as he shared his journey to The Midnight Mission. He was authentic and so moved the students that they wanted to reach back out to him. These lessons in connection to the community go beyond the learning capacity in a classroom. The visits to The Midnight Mission provided students with the opportunity to connect with people in the community they would not have otherwise met.
Wendy said the students have experience in tzedakah, which refers to giving to those in need. She went on to say these honor students are our future leaders, policymakers, and officials. Their volunteer time at The Midnight Mission helps shape the adults they will become. Being deeply committed to service prepares them for a future where they can help shape more connected communities.
We want to express our sincere gratitude to our friend Wendy who is the driving force behind this meaningful partnership. Not only have the students been enlightened by the experience, so have our staff and the people we serve. We look forward to welcoming back the Milken students soon.
James Farr first came to The Midnight Mission for help in 1996, but he did not apply the lessons he learned until he went through the program for the second time in 2000. For the last 20 years, James has faithfully served The Midnight Mission.
Staying at The Midnight Mission was not James’ original plan. He worked in the kitchen as part of TMM’s work therapy program. He had applied for Section 8 housing, and he found an apartment. He asked if he could stay on at TMM until he found another job. James never found another job. In his words, “The Midnight Mission saved my life, and it is where I give back to others.” James believes it is important to be where he is supposed to be, and it is evident TMM is where he is needed. He only misses work if he is sick, and then someone has to tell him to go home. His co-workers know he is responsible and dependable.
James loves to meet the volunteers who come to help in The Midnight Mission’s kitchen. His enthusiasm for what he does spills over into the people he meets. He has many stories of people who have come in over the years.
One little boy started to volunteer at The Midnight Mission when he was nine years old. He came with his family; then, the family brought their church to volunteer. James watched him grow up over the years he volunteered with TMM. He grew so close to the family; they invited him to celebrate Christmas at their house. Another volunteer would return month after month, showing James a picture he had taken of the two of them, telling James he was his best friend.
James had an incredible mentor at The Midnight Mission. Richard Ramirez was the executive chef when he first came to the program in 1996, and he was there when he came back. They worked together for over 13 years. Richard encouraged James to go to LA Trade Tech culinary school. The program took two years, and it required James to work from 12 am until 6 am then go to school. He would catch a bus to and from school and work, sometimes getting his sleep between stops. In the end, James finished and is a certified chef.
Richard urged James to get a driver’s license. When Richard was sick and near the end of his life, he told James he would leave his car to James. The relationship they had working together was full of love and support.
In addition to having great relationships with staff and volunteers, James has excellent ties with donors. SoCalGas is a faithful donor who also works hands-on at The Midnight Mission. James developed a trusting relationship with one of the engineers who would volunteer in the kitchen. He would compliment James, telling him he ran the kitchen beautifully. When it came time for the Smokey Robinson golf tournament, the engineer invited James to play on his team. One of the executives who was playing with them won five of the prizes awarded that day. He gave all of the prizes away except one, a Soul Train Cruise. He said he was keeping it for himself. When the executive returned to The Midnight Mission for the Golden Heart Gala, he asked to see James. When James came to work, he was curious why they were all standing in a circle. The executive said it was put on his heart to give James the trip. James was so surprised. It was the best vacation, one he could not have planned for himself. He saw many artists perform on the seven-day cruise and even heard Smokey Robinson when they went to the port in Puerto Rico.
The life James leads is one of service to others. His eagerness to get to know others grants immeasurable rewards. He has stayed connected to The Midnight Mission and those who come through the doors to work, volunteer, or get their own lives back on track. James is a shining example of what can happen when you put your trust in God and dedicate your life to helping others. He found all of his needs are met, and he lives a life that is usefully whole. James encourages others to stay focused, stay connected, and don’t let circumstances in life knock you off your feet.
Clancy Imislund, Managing Director of The Midnight Mission since 1974, passed away peacefully on August 24, 2020. For 46 years, he worked relentlessly, helping disenfranchised people in Skid Row find a pathway to self-sufficiency. Clancy is known worldwide for his leadership in the 12-step community, speaking globally to bring a message of life-saving hope to those in the darkest places.
Among his many accomplishments, Clancy was responsible for bringing the 12-step philosophy to The Midnight, establishing the organization as one of the first providers of addiction treatment on Skid Row, earning him the title, “The King of Skid Row.” Clancy has said that what The Midnight Mission does “is the difference between giving a hungry person a fish and teaching them how to fish.”
Clancy led The Midnight through the many dramatic changes occurring on Skid Row over the past five decades. During his tenure, he saw drastic changes in the population, which began to include not only homeless men but women and children, too. Clancy championed the Capital Campaign to build TMM’s facility at 601 S. San Pedro Street, which opened in 2005 to handle the diverse populations The Midnight Mission now serves.
TMM President & CEO Mike Arnold stated, “Clancy has been part of The Midnight Mission family for almost 50 years, and has a special place in our lives, and our hearts. He was my mentor, my advocate, my fellow Norwegian, who always understood and loved my Olli and Olaf jokes, and a kindred spirit in his desire to help people live better lives than they ever imagined for themselves. We can and should celebrate that we had the opportunity to spend so much time with this man whose presence was always larger than life, and recognize that we may never meet anyone who has left a bigger footprint on not only The Midnight Mission but the world at large than our friend, Clancy.”
Where Clancy’s life ended was a far cry from where he began. He was born in the small town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1927. At the tender age of fifteen, Clancy left home, joined the Merchant Marines, marked his sixteenth birthday in Pearl Harbor, and then joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. After the war, while in college, Clancy began drinking with other Veterans and growing more dependent on alcohol. Despite not liking the taste, he continued to drink because it was “the thing to do.” Alcohol slowly took control of his life, and after a 15 year downhill battle, Clancy found himself alone and penniless on the streets of Skid Row. He had lost everything, his career as a successful marketing executive, 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.
When Clancy was thrown out of The Midnight on October 31, 1958, after a brief scuffle, no one dreamed that one day he would return to become the organization’s leader. Back out on the street again, Clancy realized he had finally hit bottom. His recovery began by his walking 71 blocks, in the rain, to an alcoholic rehabilitation center on Wilshire and Fairfax. Upon entering, Clancy was finally willing to do whatever it might take to get his life back. Under the instruction of a mentor, Clancy found a job, a plan for life, and began his journey on the road of recovery.
After five years of sobriety and laborious progress on his part, his wife and family reunited. He made his way back into the work world and, after some time, became an executive at KHJ radio and television in Los Angeles, where he was instrumental in introducing the “boss radio” format. During this time, 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. No one could describe alcoholism or talk to “drunks” the way that Clancy could.
“Clancy Imislund was the Jonas Salk of recovery,” TMM supporter and friend, actor/activist Ed Begley, Jr. explained. “With 12 steps (and often 12 good jokes), he could inoculate a large room, or one lonely and desperate soul with a cure that, unlike polio, didn’t last a lifetime, but one manageable a day at a time. The millions of people that he touched around the world will never be the same.”
In 1974, Clancy was enjoying a second successful career in publishing and radio promotion, when a member of TMM’s Board of Directors asked 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. Clancy discovered his true calling and was so effective using his talents that he stayed on permanently.
Over the years, Clancy had a profound impact at The Midnight and in the lives of the thousands of people who have come through our doors. Clancy brought an unmatchable level of empathy and understanding to the organization. TMM Board member and former President and CEO Larry Adamson wrote, “A great man has been called to his place in God’s kingdom. Everywhere I traveled and spoke of The Midnight Mission, Clancy’s name would immediately become the subject. He was a man who had more impact on humanity than anyone I ever had the privilege to know. God, thank you for allowing me the privilege to have shared the leadership of The Midnight Mission with him. Until we meet again, my brother, until we meet again. Rest in Peace.”
Never one to mince words, Clancy was known for his direct, no-nonsense demeanor, but also his approachability. He always seemed to have the time to listen and provide a few words of wisdom. To say that Clancy was the heart and soul of The Midnight would be an understatement. Clancy saved homeless lives, as well as the lives of alcoholics all over the world. He offered hope to everyone: rich and poor, those living in tents and boxes, and those living in Beverly Hills mansions. They would all come to the Midnight to get his help to beat alcoholism. Longtime friend and TMM supporter, entertainer Dick Van Dyke said of Clancy, “He was one of a kind. How many of us owe our lives to him?!”
The cornerstone to recovery is one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. For over 61 years, Clancy lived a life that mattered and showed others by his example, how helping one person help another could make an enormous difference to those whom the world may consider hopeless. The traditions he established will have a ripple effect on the lives of those who knew him and will continue to impact for generations to come. “Clancy was the most influential person in my life,” TMM board member and friend Steve Watson said. “He taught me that it is our great honor to be able to help another human being, no matter what their pain or suffering or needs are. He helped give me a purpose for my life, and that is to help my fellow man, woman, or child.”
To carry on his legacy, Clancy leaves his five children, fifteen grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and thousands of friends who considered him their teacher and mentor. He was preceded in death by his wife, Charlotte, and his son.
Michelle is a Mom of two teenagers with a full-time job. After 19 years of living in a verbally abusive relationship, she had to find a new beginning. The end of that relationship left her without hope, and her bank account depleted.
Michelle and her children stayed with her brother and his six kids for a short time. Then, they stayed at Outward Bound for a few months, until they told Michelle she made too much money to stay. Michelle talked to her caseworker about finding help before she would be forced to live in a car with her children.
Michelle’s caseworker recommended she apply at HomeLight Family Living. Acceptance into the program filled Michelle with hope. She is grateful for the opportunity to step back and look at herself. The staff at HomeLight encouraged her to look at the whole picture, and they are not afraid to tell her the truth about herself and her circumstances. She has learned not to worry about tomorrow and to stay in the gift of the present.
Michelle credits HomeLight Family Living for making her a better Mom. Being empowered to stand with confidence on her own two feet, she is now leading her children by example. Michelle has learned the art of listening to her children and seeing them for who they are. She is encouraging them to go where their dreams are leading them, not where she thinks they should go.
Michelle learned how to budget, and she has saved money for a down payment on a home of her own. She watched her credit score increase as she made financially responsible decisions. With the help of the staff at HomeLight, she improved her capacity in the workforce and is asserting herself to succeed.
Looking back, Michelle is grateful to have been chosen to participate in the program. She is thankful for the chance to get her life together. She has been given a new perspective. Michelle realizes she didn’t do anything wrong to end up as a homeless statistic. She knows homelessness can happen to anyone, but it is not a place someone has to stay. She says she is blessed to have a second chance at life.
Matt grew up in Northern California with his Mom, Dad, brother, and sister. He has fond memories of hunting and fishing with his brother. Stronger than these recollections are ones of living in a house with an abusive, alcoholic father. Matt recalls watching his Mom endure physical beatings. When he was six years old, Matt’s Dad left the family.
With his father’s leaving, Matt was now the man of the house. He would help his Mom with his siblings, quitting school in eighth grade to work in the fields. Matt suffered from prejudice from his uncles and cousins. Being biracial made him a target for their bullying and violence. He found himself fighting with them to protect himself. The combination of abandonment from his father and abuse from his family planted a seed of shame.
Matt’s Mom got remarried, and Papa Joe became a real father to Matt. He showed Matt love and taught him the skills to be a man. When Matt was 25, his beloved mother passed away from cancer. Two months later, Papa Joe died. Matt didn’t know how to handle the pain of their deaths, so he turned to what he had seen his father turn to, drugs and alcohol.
As he turned away from his family and into his addiction, Matt lost all contact with his siblings and children. He stepped into the life of gangs and prisons. He watched one by one as his friends died from overdoses or were shot down in cold blood. He thanks God for being what he calls a “bad criminal.” Matt said he was always getting caught. At the time, he thought it was bad luck. Today, Matt thanks God for sitting him in “time out.” He believes these “time outs” helped save his life by getting him off the streets for extended periods.
Anna was someone who was special to Matt. They had a relationship filled with drugs, alcohol, and running the streets. Matt watched Anna suffer from the effects of methamphetamines. In the end, she went to the hospital with an enlarged heart. Matt’s warrants caught up to him, and he was arrested. Instead of being with Anna as she took her last breath, Matt sat in a dim jail cell.
Anna’s death was a turning point for Matt. He looked around his life, and all he saw was death and destruction. He made a decision it would be the last time he would be incarcerated. He wanted a different life. One year later, he was out of jail, and he had nowhere to go. He ended up going to Anna’s grave. He spent three days at the cemetery, determined to walk away from the life of drugs and crime.
Matt hadn’t talked to his brother in 15 years. When he called to tell him where he was, his brother came to pick him up. His brother opened his home for Matt to have a place to rest his head. He stayed there for three weeks, then went to stay with his son. Matt wanted more from life; he wanted to live a life of self-sufficiency. Matt’s brother-in-law worked with the Rotary Club and secured him a bed at The Midnight Mission.
On April 11, 2019, Matt began his journey with The Midnight Mission. He credits TMM for the best year of his life. In the past year, Matt has found his identity. He said it had been a beautiful journey getting to know himself. He found out he is a loving person who cares about others. Matt is reliable and responsible.
His actions match his words. Matt is currently working two jobs, one at The Midnight Mission, and the other one at Chrysalis. Matt used to work in construction, making a lot of money, but the money never lasted in his previous lifestyle. Today, Matt stated work isn’t about the money you make; it’s about giving back. When he goes to bed after a long day of work, he sleeps well.
Matt spends time each day reading his Bible. He says it helps keep him centered on what is important. He has found he does not have to live his life in shame, and he is confident to continue his recovery and this way of life. He has experienced healing of the heartache he has endured. With help from The Midnight Mission staff, Matt has made peace with his past and is focusing on the future.
The relationships Matt neglected during the years in his addiction are being reconciled. He talks to his brother and sister often. On his birthday, he was surprised by the food lovingly brought by his sister. Matt rejoices in the love he has found in his family. He is hopeful of reuniting with his children when the time is right.
Matt is determined to make the right decisions. He has found a healthy way of living, and he wants to build on it. Through his recovery, he has been given a new pair of glasses. Matt can see red flags and can act intuitively with wisdom. He desires to have peace with himself and with others, and he has decided to let nothing get in his way.
Matt will graduate from The Midnight Mission’s participant program in June of 2020. His dream job is to work in security at TMM. He looks back on his life, and he can see how many times he should have been dead. But, now he has a new beginning. His greatest desire is to provide hope to other men, like himself, who come to The Midnight Mission in complete despair. He said if he could help guide just one person to a new life and to offer support like he has been given, he will have eternal treasures.
Sara Gabriel lived for 25 years in the depths of addiction and grips of mental health. In the last five years of darkness, she was living in a tent, separated from the son she loved. She was eating out of trashcans and only had four teeth left in her mouth. Her life was utterly unmanageable from the inside out.
Her bottom came when she could no longer live with herself. The hope of maybe seeing her son again and being a Mom gave her the will to go to a drug rehabilitation center. There, she grabbed hold of a 12-step program. Sara had fallen face first, and she had to learn how to let other people lovingly help her get back up. After rehab, she took the suggestion to go to a sober living house. She aspired to bring her son with her, but she could not. Completing the sober living program and intensive outpatient gave her a firm foundation for her recovery, but it did not give her what she dreamed of most: a place of her own with her son.
On her son’s fourteenth birthday, she went to the house of his father and asked if she could see her son. To her surprise, she received the gift of being with her son again. Since she was renting a room at Rapid Rehousing, her son could not come to live with her, but it did not stop Sara from doing everything she could to support her son. She would go grocery shopping for him and ride her bike to the laundry mat to do his laundry.
Sara pleaded with her caseworker to help her find a way so she and her son could reunite in a home of their own. Her caseworker was an alumnus of HomeLight Family Living program, and she suggested Sara apply for the program. Sara credits the steps of recovery with her willingness to be honest and transparent in the HomeLight Family interview. Overhearing the talk, the director of HomeLight accepted her on the spot. On December 8, 2018, for the first time in years, she and her son were living under the same roof.
The father of Sara’s son had not enrolled him in school, so her first task was to get him enrolled in school. The two of them put in a lot of work to build trust between them. HomeLight and the services provided gave them the safety net they needed to build through mistakes made. They were able to heal from the pain of the past. HomeLight Family Living has given them great hope for their future together.
Gratitude is an action word for Sara. She loves being able to help the other women at HomeLight, whether it is helping with her neighbor’s babies or having an ear to listen; she believes they are all there for a reason. Sara cherishes the bonds she has made, saying they are connected by a shared empathy and understanding of going through the same circumstances. She loves to watch others come into the program, rise up, and grow.
Her gratitude does not end at HomeLight. Today, Sara is a Pier Bridge helper with SHARE (Self-Help and Recovery Exchange). She brings help and support to those suffering with homelessness. Sara says she has used every life experience she has had to help someone else today. She meets people where they are, listens to their goals, and helps them take steps to achieve them. Sara reminds her clients that homelessness is just a chapter in their book, not their whole book. She is there to help them start a new chapter just as others had done for her.
Upon graduating from the program, Sara plans to move into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment and continue her work. She has finally found her purpose in life: to help others through her own experience.
David Abrego describes himself as open-minded, humble, easy going, motivated, honest, and an overall good person. When he came to The Midnight Mission the second time, David would not have described himself with those attributes. He had hit a new low, and he didn’t believe there was any way back up.
At 20 years old, David first visited The Midnight Mission under court order. He came from the LA County Jail after serving a one year sentence on a weapons/drug charge. He stayed at TMM for 18 months, but he did not practice a sober way of life when he left.
Sadly, David’s older brother found David living in the streets. He dropped him off at The Midnight Mission, telling David there was no other option. David was not happy to be back at TMM. He felt lost and had given up hope of ever getting sober again.
After only two weeks of being at The Midnight Mission, David realized how the program was changing his life. He knew he didn’t like himself when he drank. He knew he needed a personality change, but not the kind he used to find through drinking. While at TMM, a friend encouraged him to go back to church and connect with a God of his understanding. Today, David lives along spiritual principles and has faith that drives his actions.
David is on a path of self-sufficiency. He is going to school studying heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). He also works in TMM’s Development Department as a Development Assistant.
David is an active member of a 12-step fellowship, attending meetings, and taking suggestions from those who came before him. David plans to take part in the TMM Alumni Club and would love to be the President of the Alumni Club someday. David would advise a newcomer to “stay out of your mind, get involved, and give sobriety a chance. If you really want it, build a foundation, because if you don’t, you’re just going to be wasting time smoking and drinking.”
Floyd Davis started with the cards stacked against him. At an early age, he was exposed to drugs, alcohol, and violent abuse. Davis was born and raised in New Orleans in a household with a loving mother, but an abusive father. At the age of six, his father got upset and pulled a gun on him. His mom stepped in between Floyd and the gun, and his dad fired a shot, which narrowly missed his mother’s head. Davis saw it all. He never wanted to be like his dad but later found himself falling into the same patterns with his own son by drinking and being abusive. Then one day, as he was pulling out a stick to whip his son, he broke down and said: “I don’t want to be like this,” he then grabbed his son and hugged him, “I’m not going to be like that” he told himself.
As much as he tried, Davis could not stop abusing drugs and alcohol. The Impression his dad had on his life was too strong to ignore. Davis believed that he would never escape a life of drugs, alcohol, and abuse. Because of that, he felt like there was never going to be closure in his life. Although he tried to live on the straight and narrow, he soon found himself in Skid Row, where he was using daily. But that fire always burned within him to become a better man. Davis, who describes himself as a “go-getter and a man who wanted to change his life,” brought himself to The Midnight Mission (TMM) in July of 2018 looking for a new start.
Davis had a lot of built-up anger festering inside of him. The first few months at The Midnight were hard and he was rebellious and acted out. A fellow Skid Row friend didn’t think The Midnight Mission was for Davis. She tried to convince him to go back to the streets and continue using drugs and alcohol. It would have been the easy thing to do. But despite how he was acting out, the desire to be a better man never left Davis’ thoughts. He told his friend he was going to stay at The Midnight Mission and continue to work on himself.
There were many times when Davis wanted to quit and leave, but a picture of a bearded man who asked him for a dollar reminded him of what he didn’t want to be. He thought to himself, “I remembered a man I had seen, that had asked me for a dollar on the street, and something came clear to me that day. If you don’t stop doing what you are doing, you’re going to be just like that man, nothing. They’re just going to put dirt over you, and that’s it. And I said I never want to be like that man. I think seeing that man is what keeps me focused. I think God showed me that man for a reason.”
Davis worked hard and has been able to find success at The Midnight Mission. He passed the resume class with flying colors. Since then, he has found a job as a dishwasher and has helped eight other TMM participants gain employment. He takes great pride in being of service to others. He says his job and his boss, who gave him a chance, keep him going. In fact, his boss would like Davis to someday go to culinary school. Davis has also joined the 1201 Alumni Association after successfully completing the program. The week of Thanksgiving, Davis moved into his first new apartment.
As Davis leaves The Midnight Mission and embarks upon his new journey, he hopes to be remembered as a decent person. “I want to make a change. I may not have much, but I want to make a change.” Davis knows it won’t be easy and some days will be harder than others. But, as Davis likes to say, “good is always going to outdo the evil. Evil can not win!”
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
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 Jo’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.
Having been abandoned by her Mom, considered the ‘Black Sheep’ at her father’s house, and under the influence of speed, Bobbie Jo 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. At age fourteen, Bobbie Jo was arrested for fighting. She started snorting speed, and drinking became a problem. Despite trying to hide her addiction, Bobbie Jo said, “I felt rotten, like a garbage can.”
Bobbie Jo became pregnant with her first son, and six months after his birth, her mother died. Her addiction to speed escalated, and her relationship with her child’s father was toxic and rife with domestic violence. Bobbie Jo had two more children and had tried unsuccessfully to leave the abusive relationship. It was not until she was stabbed in the arm and cut on the neck in front of her children, Bobbie Jo 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 drugs but still drinking, Bobbie Jo finally got her first apartment at age 26. Sadly, she was soon 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. As the result of a family member’s dishonesty, my children were trapped there for ten months,” Bobbie Jo remembers. “I wanted to clean myself up before they came back.” Instead, Bobbie Jo’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 Jo ended up moving in with a man she met. At that time, her sister was trying to facilitate Bobbie Jo’s children’s move back from deep in Mexico. She was eventually successful. However, Bobbie Jo’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 that she was being arrested at the moment her kids were coming back to the U.S. It was bittersweet.
Bobbie Jo’s life patterns kept repeating, and she met another man and became pregnant. The ironic timing was 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 again.” This situation spiraled down as her boyfriend was arrested for stealing cars. Out of jail with no place to go, Bobbie Jo and her children moved from motel to shelter to motel. When her boyfriend was released, they managed to find an affordable apartment. She had her baby and isolated herself. “I was trying to stay sober,” Bobbie Jo says.
With her fourth child just four months old, Bobbie Jo relapsed again. Not surprisingly, there were domestic violence issues again. “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 Jo admits.
Still using drugs and bouncing from friend to friend, her sister had given up on Bobbie Jo. While at a shelter in Skid Row, someone called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Her three oldest children were at her sister’s, and her baby was with her at a shelter. DCFS approached Bobbie Jo and her baby daughter and realized the obvious; Bobbie Jo was under the influence of drugs. They took custody of her baby and all three of her children living with her sister. Bobbie Jo’s children were separated and placed in homes in Corona, Lancaster, Granada Hills, and West L.A. Bobbie Jo made the commitment to become sober and drug-free on June 13, 2014. “That’s the moment I changed,” Bobbie Jo says. “I was hanging out on San Pedro Street in Skid Row, crying.”
Knowing the only direction left to go was up, Bobbie Jo 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 Jo says. “I was six months inpatient before going into sober living. That was the process.”
Through her 12-step work at Mini-House, Bobbie Jo 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 12-step sponsor requested a referral, and my DCFS worker was very helpful,” Bobbie Jo 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.”
Safe, secure, and sober in The Midnight Mission’s HomeLight Family Living Program, Bobbie Jo was able to get a job to support her four children. She learned how to be a good mother to her two sons and two daughters, who ranged in age from five to eighteen years at that time. She was able to attend meetings and work with her sponsor. She was finally able to become a fully functional member of society.
After leaving HomeLight, Bobbie Jo worked to help people on general release find employment. She helped them develop and write resumes. Bobbie Jo also assisted them in a job search. She loved her job helping people, but she needed a higher paying job to ensure she would not return to homelessness.
Because she completed the job-readiness program herself, Bobbie Jo was given new opportunities. She was accepted into a paid internship with the LA Medical Coroner’s office as a property custodian. Anytime anyone is brought into the coroner’s office, their property is picked up and inventoried. Bobbie Jo witnesses the inventory and then creates a letter for the next of kin to release the items to their care. The most satisfying part of her job is helping those who have lost a loved one through this process. She has found being helpful in a tough time gives families comfort.
The internship at the LA County Coroner’s office is for two years. Upon completion, Bobbie Jo hopes to have a permanent position with the county. For the first time in her life, she has a job with medical insurance and a 401K. These benefits are beyond what Bobbie Jo imagined for her life. To get a permanent position would enable her to buy her own home for her family.
In addition to work, Bobbie Jo continues to better herself. She is studying to complete her GED. She also continues to work a 12-step program to grow spiritually. While striving toward these goals, Bobbie Jo was presented with an opportunity to be of service to her father. When her Dad had health complications, Bobbie Jo decided to have him move into her apartment.
Bobbie Jo said she sometimes wakes up and thinks she must be dreaming because her life is so great today. It is better than she could have ever imagined, and she can’t wait to see what the next chapters bring. She knows if she does the footwork and leaves the results up to God, everything will be wonderful.
“I am forever grateful to The Midnight Mission for programs like this. I was given a chance when I really needed it.”
For more information on HomeLight Family Living, visit www.midnightmission.org/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.