Lacking a support system and financial stability, Eunice began to struggle with depression turning to alcohol and drugs. She didn’t want to think about what was going wrong in her life, instead choosing to fall deeper into a troubled state that soon resulted in her losing everything and eventually becoming homeless.
Eunice chose to move to LA’s Skid Row in large part because she heard of the benefits that might be available. The tough streets, ready availability of drugs, and overall despair were a dangerous mix for someone already on the brink. Three years of bouncing from shelter to shelter, surviving on $221 a month and food stamps, and drug abuse took their toll. She wanted her future to take a different course.
Initially coming to Chrysalis in need of a mailing address in May of 2009, Eunice was informed by staff that in order to receive services, she had to participate in the Chrysalis Employment Program. She enrolled in the program the very next day. Eunice began to take her life back.
After completing the job-readiness curriculum, Eunice obtained transitional employment through Chrysalis Enterprises, working as a Front Desk Clerk at SRO Housing Corporation in downtown Los Angeles. The job gave her a renewed sense of security and a new outlook on life. Impressed by Eunice’s work performance, SRO Housing offered her a permanent position as an Assistant Property Manager. She will be celebrating one year in this position next month (September 2010).
Eunice credits Chrysalis for helping her turn her life around, “Through Chrysalis, I now have a wonderful job, a beautiful apartment and I’m working with people that love me and I love them back…I have life”.
Deborah Martin, a California native and mother of two sons, was devastated by her divorce. "My kids, husband, the house with the picket fence, that Ozzie and Harriet life, was my whole world, I made it my whole world, and when that all came to a crashing halt I was shattered." Deborah's 1994 divorce propelled her into a life of drugs and prostitution. "When I ended up on the streets, drugs were my pain reliever… I was just trying to kill the pain. My whole world had just shattered and the drugs kept me numb for a long time."
For six years Deborah lived on the streets or in motels. She had worked in the MacAurthur Park area before the divorce, and when she found herself homeless she went there. Deborah's parents, siblings, even her ex-husband, would search MacAurthur Park for her. "I'd see them and exit the other side. I worried the death out of them. They loved me, but I didn't feel that I could go home. I didn't feel I had a home. They were right there, 8 miles away in Highland Park, but I could only be with me, so I separated myself."
During her years on the streets, Deborah was frequently arrested. "Once you've been to jail, you keep going back. You have to break the cycle…Drugs and prostitution kept leading me to jail, eventually the State Pen. I did jail time by myself, with nothing and no one. It was hard, and prison was harder still."
After her release from prison in September 2000, Deborah lived at the Weingart Center and found work through Chrysalis. For 19 months, Deborah was part of the Central City East Association's Street Works Team and swept the curbs of Skid Row. Then, through Chrysalis, Deborah began working at SRO Housing's Leonide Hotel as a Janitor. The manager of the Leonide Hotel wrote Deborah a letter of recommendation. On September 11 2002, SRO Housing hired her as a full-time Assistant Manager at The Courtland. Today, Deborah is a Property Manager, managing the Yankee (80 Efficiency units), The New Terminal (40 efficiency units), the Marshal House (SRO Transitional Sober Living -71 units), and supervises a staff of 5.
In 2003, Deborah received Chrysalis' "Butterfly of the Year" Award. "That was really an honor. Chrysalis gave me my start. For someone like me, someone starting all over, cleaning up records and wreckage they were a lifesaver. I've had a long, steady relationship with Chrysalis. Today I send my residents that are looking for work to Chrysalis."
"SRO means a lot to me. I came to SRO looking for a place I could grow, and I've found that, in my job and as a person. I'm not the same person I was Nine years ago when I came to work for SRO. Two years from now I won't be the same person that I am today. The learning never stops. You learn how to deal with different people and situations in different ways. What works today may not work tomorrow, so you continue to learn new ways. "
"I take my job seriously, I'm not here just for the paycheck. My job really isn't about the paycheck; it's about giving back to the community that gave to me when I needed them. And I do what I can do. I know I'm only one hit away from being on the curb one more time. But today I'm just not willing to give up what I've worked so hard to achieve."
"I'm not proud of what I did back then, but I don't think I'd be the person I am today if I hadn't gone through what I did. I'm far from perfect, and I still have a lot of work to do on me, but I've come a long way in 11 years and my journey continues."
There is a definite before and after in 47-year-old Virginia Reed’s life. Before, she suffered through decades of an undiagnosed, untreated and debilitating panic disorder, bouts of severe depression, two abusive and life-threatening marriages, an addiction to alcohol and drugs and the shame and loneliness of living on the streets. After, she received an Associate of Arts, Cum Laude from Los Angeles Community College (LACC) in Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Counseling and was the Valedictorian of her class, numerous awards in regional and national Debate Team, Impromptu Speaking and Policy Debate competitions, the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) School of Social Work Alumni Certificate of Honor and, with a 4.0 grade point average, graduated Summa Cum Laude from the 2004 Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BSW) class at CSULA and went on to receive a Master’s in Social Work.
Virginia was raised by her father in a cooperative farming community in Colorado that fostered a sense of belonging. When she was a teenager she left her small town and went to live with her mother in the city. At 16 she had her first child. At 17 she suffered what her doctor called “nerve problems”, problems that lasted for two and a half decades and disrupted all aspects of Virginia’s life. For years Virginia experienced extreme physical distress; her head would pound, her heart would race, she feared that she was loosing control and going crazy. “I started drinking to control my anxiety. I took the edge off by drinking.”
After divorcing her abusive first husband, Virginia followed a long-distance love to California where she was finally diagnosed with a panic disorder. But the drugs she was given to control her symptoms sent her into a depression and made her unable to work. Virginia married her long-distance love, who had been supportive during her quest to get help, only to find that he was a “Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde.” “I was already drinking alcohol and taking excessive amounts of medication. When I started getting beaten I fled to the streets because I had no place else to go. I was ashamed to call my family in Colorado and ask for help and I was afraid that if I went back to Colorado he would find my family and me and hurt us. So I stayed on the streets.”
While on the streets of Hollywood and Downtown, Virginia became addicted to illegal drugs, was violently attacked and experienced intense shame and isolation. After an arrest, the Hollywood Court assigned Virginia to the Salvation Army’s Safe Harbor 90-day drug treatment program, located in Central City East. “It was crazy and hard to stay sober on Skid Row. I could see it and smell it.” After two months in the program Virginia began to understand that she had a choice, “I realized that I could choose to be a victim or a survivor, and I wasn’t going to be a victim anymore. A victim believes that they don’t deserve anything, that they’re not worthy at all. They’re thankful for a breath of air. I decided that people had reached into the depths of hell and pulled me out and that I was going to overcome. I knew that no one was going to do it for me. I would have to do it myself.”
After graduating from Safe Harbor’s treatment program, Virginia moved into SRO’s Angelus Inn, a permanent sober-living site. The Angelus Inn offered Virginia a support system and a safe environment. With this support and safety she began putting her life back together by working part-time, attending school and learning how to manage her panic disorder through cognitive behavioral therapy. First came a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling from Los Angeles Community College. Then, because Virginia realized she needed “more skills and knowledge to be truly helpful” and she believed in the ‘person in environment’ philosophy of Social Work, she enrolled at CSULA’s Social Work school. In June 2004 she graduated as the Valedictorian for the Bachelor in Arts in Social Work class. Virginia went on to earn a Master’s in Social Work degree with a focus on Administration and Policy. She is Program Manager for SRO Housing Corporation’s Permanent Supportive Housing Programs.
Virginia says that she now has “control of what happens next. I can control the space in front of me. What’s behind is over and done.” Virginia credits her success, her sobriety, certification, degrees and academic honors, with her environment. “What I’ve been able to do is about what’s around me. I didn’t get where I am by myself. I had the support of my neighbor, my hotel manager, my teachers, SRO, the staff… everyone’s been there. There is a sense of community on Skid Row that feeds my roots. I grew up with a sense of belonging but I lost that. Now I have a home and a stake in the neighborhood.”
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