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jacinto, 24, north county

I grew up next to a church, and was close to my family and friends. My parents were immigrants and hard workers, especially my dad. When I was five, ICE came to our door and deported my dad. I still had a good life growing up until I was sixteen when my mom was deported as well. Before that I was doing marijuana, drinking and cocaine, but I started doing meth after my sophomore or junior year when things weren’t going well at home and we had to move from place to place.

People do all kinds of things to pay for drugs. I was with a group who looted. We were like pirates going on a hunt for money. Sometimes I felt the shame of that because I knew where I came from. Once I had the drugs in my system, it didn’t matter to me. I managed going to school but when I had missed two or three of the credits I needed to graduate high school. I wanted to get my diploma and was referred to a JCCS program near Old Town. At the JCCS program, they said I could link my credits to my high school credits for my diploma. On my 18th birthday, I went to my school and got my diploma, my only present.

After, my mom came back but was deported again. I would throw chemicals at my body and see how it would react. I was homeless and moved around a lot. I went into a program called TAY and started going there every day. I started turning my life around and wanted to stop doing drugs. My dad came out of prison and I met up with him. I was homeless and ended up going to where he lived in Tijuana. He taught me how to be a man, to be responsible. I went back and forth across the border every day to continue going to TAY. I stayed with him and mostly stayed clean of drugs for three to six months.

TAY gave me the opportunity to join their housing program. I decided to join and got a room in downtown through TAY while working two jobs. I was struggling because my jobs were in San Ysidro. One night I got a beer and started drinking and meeting my friends again. I stopped working at my jobs and had issues with my roommate — TAY understood and moved me to El Cajon. At this point I wasn’t working anymore. I would get high and use the little money I had to go to the casino.

A counselor at TAY suggested I meet someone named Jeffrey after he presented at the program. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I reached out and met with Jeffrey every Sunday in Ocean Beach, using the trolley to get there. We talked about life and ways to stay on the right path. We’d do things like play piano and art, and get services like haircuts. I participated in their outreach program to tell others about the art program they provided. Doing outreach was also one of the requirements to be qualified for their housing and training program. I really needed housing and I felt pressured because Jeffrey was making the decision soon about who to accept.

One night, I started looking for trouble downtown and got into some fights. It started raining hard and I couldn’t get back to my room in El Cajon. I was so messed up and tired of homelessness. I was trying to run into traffic and hurt myself, and I almost did. I stopped myself and the next day decided to talk to Jeffrey. This was a turning point for me. I made it into the program and was given a room in a house to live in while going to class at Solutions for Change. There was a schedule and I would get up early each morning to work and do chores together with my housemates. After the program, I found a place to live.

I’ve been clean for two years now, and I’m working at California Conservation Corps. I’m also the president of the Corps Member Advisory Board. I even got to go to the CAB conference in Auburn, California. I use music as a coping mechanism and am thinking of being a guidance counselor. It’s been hard for me to figure out what I want to do, but I’m taking it day by day and task by task.