One of the ongoing concerns in communities with growing homeless populations is how to respond to people who are “on the streets”. It has become common knowledge that many people choose to be on the streets, as in a lifestyle choice. But this actually is not the norm among the homeless population.

People end up on the streets; sometimes because of choices that they made that result in homelessness. Once someone is on the streets and adapts to that way of life, it is very hard to move back to a normal life. Especially since he or she has likely lost hope that change is even possible. They need a hand up.

This is why Orange County Rescue Mission’s comprehensive services include what we call “outreach”. This means getting the message to the people on the streets who do want to change, that there is a way to restore their lives.

Fernando is one of those people, who had almost lost all hope. Please read his story to be informed and inspired!

“I didn’t start out to be an alcoholic dad, or a drug addict dad,” Fernando recalls sadly. He says, “I wanted to be the dad that kids can look up to. I wanted to be a son that a mom can be proud of.”

But while he was still very young, Fernando’s life went badly wrong. He was told to leave the house at the age of 15. But he was determined to make a way for himself, and he did. He went to work and found people he could live with – bouncing from one place to another. Yet, a good work ethic wasn’t enough. With the lack of guidance also came some bad decisions, like beginning to experiment with drugs. “Meth gave me the sense that I could do anything,” he says. That was a powerful high. For a while, he tried to hide his drug use, but it slowly took over his life.

As he grew older Fernando had a family of his own. He provided for them as a long haul truck driver. He loved his little girl. The highlight to his week were his days at home, spending time with her and enjoying family activities. But as the years passed, there was no more hiding the addiction and the toll it was taking on his life.

“My family was devastated when they found out how deep into my addiction I was,” he remembers. “It affected every relationship. I lost my house. I lost my car. I lost my family for a long period of time.”

There is a way out

When he ended up under a bridge, he knew he’d hit rock bottom. He spent weeks living on the streets, realizing that he had no idea how to change the trajectory of his life. Fernando began wondering if this was it – he was going to be homeless for the rest of his life. He lost all hope.

But one day, volunteers with Orange County Rescue Mission’s Chili Van outreach came to visit where he Fernando was living. Two of them told him about the difference the program had made for them. “I saw the change in their lives, and I wanted it.”

He was shocked to hear that there was a way out of homelessness, that there was a place with people that would show him how to rebuild his life, from the inside out.

Two weeks later, he arrived at the Mission. “I remember being really scared,” he says. “I remember thinking, Am I strong enough to do this?” But within months, he recalls, “I was going to school. The cravings were gone. The nightmares stopped.”

A reason to be thankful

That’s when he knew his life was going to change. “It became clear to me that God is real while I was here,” Fernando says. “An enormous amount of
love gets poured into you.”

This Thanksgiving, he has a lot to be thankful for. Fernando is overcoming drug addiction. He’s earned his high school diploma and finished as the valedictorian of his class. And in a few months he will be going back to full-time employment. By God’s grace, Fernando has also been reunited with his daughter. She watched helplessly as her dad almost destroyed himself, but now tells him proudly, “You’re not that person anymore.”

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