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Restoring hope for the future PAGE 14 CARING WINTER 2008–2009

DOING THE MOST GOOD


STORY BY CHRISTIN DAVIS PHOTOS BY NIKOLE LIM

When the streets are all you have, Los Angeles’s Bell Shelter offers embrace Alexandra Tostes opened her eyes one morning on the couch of a Hollywood drug dealer and began her usual routine—a few drinks of alcohol and a line of meth. But that day it was different; she could feel all the pain, shame and remorse that she had numbed for 14 years with drugs. She lived as a transient since leaving home at 16, doing errands and cleaning for various dealers in exchange for leftover drugs and a couch to sleep on. As a child, a serious car accident left Tostes’s mother in a coma; the accident altered the course of their lives. Tostes was moved to a foster home for a year while her mother rehabilitated. When she returned, expecting to be reunited with her mother, Tostes said the once familiar woman instead seemed like a complete stranger; she no longer offered a warm embrace. Instead of dealing with the pain of isolation, Tostes said she turned to drugs to help forget feeling alone. That morning, lying on the sofa, Tostes knew that she had to find treatment. She found a Yellow Pages directory in the dealer’s apartment and started calling programs. “I kept saying, ‘I need help,’” Tostes said. “They would all ask, ‘Do you have insurance?’ No. ‘Do you have money?’ No. ‘Do you have ID?’ No. They all basically said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ I was close to giving up.” She resolved to try a couple more times and dialed a number for The Salvation Army. “I said, ‘Look, I’ve been calling programs all day. I know what you’re going to ask and I can tell you straight off I don’t have ID, I don’t have money, I don’t have anything. The only thing I have is me,’” Tostes said. “The voice on the other end said, ‘All we need is for you to stop using. What time can you be here?’ It was the best thing I’d ever heard. “They embraced me and made me feel loved. Slowly but surely, I started feeling all the things that I was chasing—the love, the caring, the nurturing, the encouragement—the things that I didn’t have while I was using.”

Ten years later, Tostes still walks the halls at Bell Shelter; she is the associate executive director. “I knew then,” she said, “It was like God tapping me on the shoulder and saying ‘You’re home.’” Converting a warehouse The Salvation Army Bell Shelter today houses 450 people a night, plus an additional 70 during the winter months, in a converted 40,000 sq. ft. hangar, formerly a U.S. Army Air Base in a secluded industrial area in the city of Bell, roughly six miles southeast of Los Angeles. The building was renovated in the early 2000s with $3.9 million from the County of Los Angeles

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“OUR ROLE IS TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF HOMELESSNESS THROUGH

Department of Mental Health. The warehouses located at the Bell Federal Service Center were built in 1943 to store supplies awaiting shipment to troops in the Pacific theater of WWII. The shelter opened in January 1988 in 3,000 sq. ft. of extra space—the first site to be utilized under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act—because of the vision of Judge Harry Pregerson. “Any issue that involves human suffering, depravation and degradation is important to me, wherever it occurs,” Pregerson said. “I can do my part to alleviate, for example, the surge of homelessness. That’s one of my missions in life.” Pregerson, 85, is a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. As he drove to the federal court house in Los Angeles one winter day in the mid 1980s, Pregerson heard a story on the radio reporting that then Mayor Tom Bradley had opened the City Council chambers to allow homeless people to sleep inside instead of out in the bitter cold. Several homeless people had died of hypothermia during an unusually cold winter in L.A. The idea became Pregerson’s passion. He attempted to also open the doors where he worked, in the federal courthouse, to allow people to sleep in the lobby. Pregerson acquired cots and blankets from a local Army/Navy armory, but met strong opposition from some people in the building. Frustrated with the response, Pregerson then received a call from a U.S. Marshal and Marine reservist about possible space at a federal supply center in Bell. Pregerson investigated the following day with Louise Oliver, then an official

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of the General Services Administration, and then Congressman Edward Roybal. With 3,000 feet of warehouse space, cots and blankets, Pregerson had to find someone to operate the shelter. He called various organizations without success until, while watching TV one day, Pregerson saw then Divisional Commander Lt. Col. David Riley talking about The Salvation Army. He called Riley the next morning. “I said, ‘Well, what do you think, Colonel?’” Pregerson recalled. “And he replied, ‘It’s perfect.’” Pregerson also made a call to his brother-in-law, real estate developer Guilford Glazer, who donated $50,000 to cover the initial operating costs. With some loaned vans, Pregerson, Riley and dedicated people including then Captain Dave Hudson, then Captain Donald Bell, and Russell Prince would pick up homeless people from East Los Angeles, Hollywood, Long Beach and Pasadena and bring them to the shelter for a warm place to sleep, soup and bread at night, and doughnuts and coffee in the morning. “It has greatly expanded now; I wasn’t thinking then about computer literacy, a library or gym,” Pregerson said. “My initial idea was to get people off the streets so they didn’t die. But the more you get into this kind of thing, the more you become aware of the need and do whatever you can to take care of it.” He said, “Nothing gives me more pleasure than to go there and chat with people; I feel like I’m home.” A family of strangers Besides a bed and three meals, homeless clients at Bell Shelter today—including those requiring


COORDINATED CARE AND COORDINATED RESPONSE...” —Major

Victor Leslie

medical attention, the unemployed and veterans— receive comprehensive transitional care to help them reintegrate successfully and self-sufficiently back into society. The network of beds, classrooms and cafeteria houses a community of strangers with strained pasts. But in this society of seeming failure, these residents are united by hope—for a better life and a better future. They hope this for themselves, and they love and support their new family along the way. The residents must adhere to an array of schedules, obligations and incentives under one common 40-foot ceiling. Many are desperate to change; the desperation breeds success. The shelter operates on an annual budget of $4.3 million. Most of the money (75 percent) comes from federal and state funding; the shelter must raise the remaining 25 percent. “Our role is to address the issue of homelessness strategically through coordinated care and coordinated response, so that reintegration happens through employment, a healthy lifestyle and productive community involvement,” said Major Victor Leslie, divisional commander for The Salvation Army in Southern California. “Bell Shelter’s ultimate goal of putting the client on the road to achieving self-sufficiency and independent housing represents a model aimed at shifting from managing homelessness to ending it.” Street sleeping by the numbers The amount of homeless people is staggering. On any given night in Los Angeles County 73,702 people are without a home, according to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA)

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data from 2007. LAHSA conducts a massive count of homeless individuals with over a thousand volunteers every two years. The next count will take place January 27-29, 2009. Of that number, 40,144 individuals are on the streets of the city of Los Angeles. “When you’re on the outside looking in, you really don’t realize how big of a problem it is,” said La Rae C. Neal, executive director at Bell Shelter. Neal spent most of her career in the business sector but wanted a change after her sons left for college. Once she stepped inside Bell Shelter, she said she knew she wanted to be part of it. “Many of us can be one day away from homelessness; none of us are above the issue.” LAHSA also recorded general demographics for the homeless population: 83 percent are unsheltered; 59 percent are men; 12 percent are veterans; 33 percent are chronically homeless; and the median age is 45. “People can come here and feel like they’re home; you don’t come here and stay for a few days and then go back on the street. If it takes you a year, if it takes you two years, you can stay here until you get your life back together,” Neal said. “I don’t believe we would be so successful today if we were relying on man or money. It is a higher power that is keeping us going.”

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Facets of a shelter Bell Shelter houses clients in five separate classifications. First, the 128-bed Wellness Center is a state licensed drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. The majority of beds are paid for by government entities, while 25 beds are self-paid at $550 per month (though the actual cost is $1,027). Depending on individual length of recovery, clients can stay here for up to a year before transitioning into the shelter. Second, the main shelter has 136 beds. Clients in this stage are allowed more privacy and freedom than in the Wellness Center. Two people share a cubicle with two twin beds in a room full of cubicles, called the “clusters,” that are separate for men and women. Each day begins with breakfast—to be eaten by 7 a.m.—and then classes or work until the evening. Clients meet weekly with a case manager to establish and follow a personal plan for success. While in this phase, clients contribute 30 percent of any income they have and save the remaining amount. Once a client has secured a job and worked for three months, he/she is eligible to move into the transitional living phase at Bell Shelter. Here, 56 clients live in trailers across from the main shelter. They work, make their own meals, arrange their own transportation, pay a minimal rent, and meet weekly with a case manager to focus on finding permanent housing once their oneyear trailer stay is over. In a separate building, Bell Shelter has a 70-bed emergency shelter that is open from 2 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily. Another 70 beds are added during the winter months. L.A. County contributed $500,000 in 2006 to allow clients to remain here for up to a year while paying nothing. The goal is for them to find a job during their stay, work and save all of their income. Many move into the main shelter after a year. Funding is set to expire for the emergency shelter in 2009.


Finally, the John Wesley Community Health Institute provides medical care in the Recuperative Care Center at Bell Shelter. Resembling a hospital wing, 30 homeless patients that are too well to be in a hospital but too sick to return to the streets can receive medical care here 24 hours a day. Once healthy, many of these clients then transfer into the Wellness Center or the main shelter. Finding answers within According to LAHSA, 74 percent of homeless people in Los Angeles experience a disabling condition, such as mental illness, depression, physical disability or alcohol/drug abuse. Psychotherapist Paul Wager has counseled clients at Bell Shelter for almost five years in addition to the onsite mental health clinic in collaboration with the East Los Angeles Mental Health Clinic. The clinic provides caseworkers, assessment, a psychiatrist once a week, prescriptions if necessary, therapy and groups. The meetings include topics such as 12 step, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, self-esteem, conflict resolution, money management, motivation, communication, and hygiene. “Every client has a different story and different needs,” Wager said. “The homeless population is very diverse; they come from all walks of life and socio-economic groups.” Wager said when most clients arrive they are experiencing situational depression and anxiety. “Therapy is a process of helping clients figure out what their truths and goals are,” Wager said. “I try to help them find answers within themselves so they can turn that truth into reality.” While Wager said some shelters only offer “three hots and a cot,” referring to meals and a bed, “Bell Shelter offers a comprehensive program to promote an overall level of functioning.”

achieving self-sufficiency, which often requires education and job training. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) provides classes in computer literacy, English (for second language learners), and General Educational Development (GED) to certify that the individual has American high school-level academic skills. Roughly one client per month receives a GED certificate at Bell Shelter, which requires a test score higher than 40 percent of graduating high school seniors nationwide. Dolphin truck driving school sends representatives to Bell Shelter to run a 10week driving school, which earns clients a Class A drivers license and a job offer. Sergeant Lane Bragg from the Los Angeles Police Department teaches security guard certification classes. The LAUSD also teaches computer repair technician classes. With a donated $77,000 pizza oven from California Pizza Kitchen, Bell Shelter just began offering pizza certification classes. Bell Shelter also hires many of its own—38 of the 88 current employees and 16 of the 22 current case managers are former clients. “Ask any of the numerous employees at Bell who were once homeless, drug abusers or lacked mental health counseling how valuable the work is at Bell Shelter and the testimonies of salvation, reunited families, job stability,

Preparing for a new life The emphasis at Bell Shelter is on

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“ E V E RY C L I E N T H A S A DIFFERENT STORY...”

increased hope, improved health and overall crossing over to a new life would blow you away,” Leslie said. To care for their personal needs, clients also have access to a wide array of facilities including three free onsite Laundromats; a full gym, with equipment donated by Kenny Rogers; a stocked library and reading room; a salon, where volunteer beauty school students provide hair cuts and styling; and twice a week, Los Angeles’s Dream Center brings a medical van to provide care to residents. “Bell Shelter is a place of extreme makeover, a place where so many have an opportunity to, ‘ring out the old, ring in the new, ring out the false, ring in the true, ring out the grief that saps the mind, ring in redress to all mankind [Alfred Tennyson],’” Leslie said. “Above all, they become new creations in Christ.” An invitation home Bell Shelter boasts a 90 percent success rate for clients who enter and graduate. Of these clients, 76 percent remain self-sufficient, monitored by case managers who contact graduates to offer encouragement every three months during their first year back in society. And then there are those who turn their tragic life stories into incredible triumph—people like Alexandra Tostes.

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—Paul Wager

“It feels great to be in the position where I can make a difference, because The Salvation Army made every single difference in my life,” Tostes said. “The clients’ stories keep me sane and grounded. The thought still comes in my head, even after 10 years, that a drink would be nice. But when they share their experiences from a day ago, it keeps my awareness up that the pain is still out there if I want it—but I don’t want it anymore. Their pain is so fresh it keeps me grounded. I share my experiences to let them know there is hope, but they are helping me just as much as I am helping them.” A large glass vase sits on a shelf above her desk overflowing with thank you cards from past clients and people she has impacted. Tostes said she reads them when needing a reminder of what she has overcome. Now when Tostes sees an addict living on the streets—an experience she well remembers—she stops and asks if they want help; she asks if they’re tired of living that way. “I can relate,” she says, and hands over a business card—evidence of a transformed life. Tostes offers a simple solution, “Come home to the Bell Shelter if you’re ready to find hope.”

n Christin Davis is an associate editor for New Frontier Publications.


Bell Shelter

Restoring hope for the future

Ferny Marrufo had a hard time finding his place in a Mexican-American community. “I just wanted to be a kid,” he said. “I didn’t want to be chicano; I just wanted to be part of the whole.” He recalls being friends with Anglo kids throughout his childhood, until he was in high school and they wouldn’t associate with him anymore. “I remember people saying, ‘hey, man, lighten up,’” Marrufo said. “I didn’t even know I was Mexican. Suddenly, I had to learn to be a chicano; I had to belong somewhere.” The one person who always accepted Marrufo was his grandmother. “She was my caregiver and nurturer;” Marrufo said, “a very spiritual person.” When she passed away, Marrufo had hit the bottom. Prior to her death, he had served in the Vietnam War and was introduced to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol during his service. When he returned to the U.S., his wife left him because of his drug use. “Everything I loved was taken from me—my grandma, my wife, my kids, even my dog,” Marrufo said. “That was the last straw.” When cocaine didn’t have a powerful enough effect, he switched to methamphetamines; he said he liked to feel

Ferny Marrufo Photo by Nikole Lim

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“I identify with vets, addicts and alcoholics because I’ve been there. I can’t change anybody, but I try to instill some hope.” “the bang.” He also began to deal drugs. “I was pretty good at it,” Marrufo said. “I was hooked on the drama—you get a false sense of power because you have these little bags of substances.” Eventually, Marrufo was arrested and sent to a recovery facility. While there, he said he started to identify with the feelings that people around him expressed, which made him want to run. The program manager recognized this and asked him if he had ever used a matchbook cover to sharpen the points of needles before shooting a drug into his arm. “He knew where I’d been,” Marrufo said. “That gave me a little hope, that somebody there knew my story.” That man later hired Marrufo as a front desk clerk and eventually promoted him to intake coordinator, then supervisor. He never made more than $8 an hour, but was able to pay back student loans, give his mom money, and cover his own expenses. Marrufo later heard about the Bell Shelter and began volunteering weekly to lead men through the steps of recovery. The staff noticed his dedication and eventually offered him a job as a shelter case manager. He said he recognized it as a blessing from God and accepted. Marrufo has now worked as a veterans case manager for almost four years; he

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has been clean and sober for nine years. “I identify with vets, addicts and alcoholics because I’ve been there,” Marrufo said. “I can’t change anybody, but I try to instill some hope.” Though Marrufo, 60, said his body is now paying him back for 37 years of drug use, he feels, “no matter what happens, God will get you through it. That’s what I tell people recovering.” “This might not look like a lot,” Marrufo said, scanning the space around his cubicle. “At times, I don’t feel worthy enough to do this work, but then a guy will call and thank me for helping save his life—that’s a God shot.” Marrufo said the disease of addiction will twist your whole way of thinking. “It’s amazing—as scared, hurt and angry as I was in addiction, as soon as I surrendered to him, I had hope,” Marrufo said. Everyday, Marrufo wakes and recites the prayer of Jabez from 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain! With tears streaming down his cheeks, Marrufo said, “When I go to heaven, I want God to say, ‘Here’s your family.’” ­—Christin Davis


Bell Shelter

Restoring hope for the future

JosephMoore Photo by Nikole Lim

Joseph Moore lay in his cardboard box home on Skid Row. He was addicted to cocaine and had lost everything because of it. As he reflected on his surroundings that morning in 1990, he asked God for help. He remembers sitting up and seeing a sign for The Salvation Army Harbor Light across the street. He enrolled in the program that day. “Before I slept in the cot at Harbor Light, I knelt down and asked God to take away my desire for drugs, alcohol and nicotine,” he said. Previously, a life of drug use led Moore to 22 months in Tehachapi Correctional Institution. “I knew then there was only one person who could help me—Jesus,” he said. He started attending Bible studies and worship services while in prison. After completing the Harbor Light program, Moore graduated with a certificate of ministry from Hope International University in 2006, and became an ordained minister in 2007. When Bell Shelter

became an official outpost in September 2007, Moore was named chaplain. In this role, Moore provides spiritual guidance to all clients with both personal and biblical counseling. He encourages and prays with those who come to him with concerns. “I’m here to lift them up, but also to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Moore said. “I believe God has saved me for that purpose.” Moore has now been clean and sober for 18 years. He was reunited with his wife and two children 10 years ago. In the Sunday services, Moore allows the clients to praise in whatever way they are comfortable and strives to get everyone involved in the service. The Bell Outpost has 17 soldiers in its ranks, two enrolled recently. “I tell them all, ‘What he’s done for me, he can do for you,’” Moore said. —Christin Davis

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Bell Shelter

Restoring hope for the future As the current employee of the year at Bell Shelter, Hugo Mejia is living in a different realm than a few years ago. Back then he was fired for having a drug party in his boss’s office; now Mejia is the case manager for 56 clients living independently in trailers at Bell Shelter. “I help clients transition into permanent housing so they’re not back on the streets,” Mejia said. “This place is home to me; it brings me joy. It has given me so much—how do you repay somebody for giving you your life back?” In August of 2004, Mejia entered Bell Shelter as a client. He recalls growing up as a “mama’s boy,” as he was the youngest of eight children and his dad left when Mejia was a toddler. Mejia would often stay home from school to watch soap operas with his mom; he didn’t know she was sick. When he was 16, she died—a complete shock to a child so close to his mother. He moved in with a sister and began therapy to deal with his mother’s death and his own struggles with his sexual orientation. When he turned 18, he was told to move out. In his second semester of 12th grade, Mejia found an apartment and got a full-time job at Wendy’s; he didn’t finish high school. Around this time, Mejia started using methamphetamines. “Drugs were always appealing,” Mejia said. “I wanted to be like a punk rocker.” He also attempted suicide. “I just wanted to go to sleep and that be it,” Mejia said. “I remember coming out of a daze with paramedics pounding on my chest. That’s when I realized I had to be strong—I was on my own.” He completed his first rehabilitation program around age 22 and remained sober for eight years. After a 12-year relationship ended, Mejia decided to make a life change. He left Wendy’s—though he had moved up in the company considerably—to pursue a career in the music industry, starting with

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Hugo Mejia

Photos by Nikole Lim

a job at Tower Records making minimum wage. Eight years later, he got a job with a public relations company. He also picked up his meth addiction again. Instead of finding a place to stay, Mejia would go to clubs all night and shower at a gym the next morning. He took speed and often went without sleep, one time for six days straight. On August 8, 2004, Mejia went to jail for the first time. A probation officer gave Mejia a business card for The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter; it would be his third rehab program. As a client, Mejia volunteered in the kitchen. “The years at Wendy’s paid off,” he said. Five months later, they offered him a job. He worked in the kitchen for


a year and then in security for five months. When the emergency shelter opened, Mejia became a case manager and was eventually promoted to be the transitional living program case manager. “The image that I had of homeless people was shattered,” Mejia said of his experience at Bell Shelter. “I love this job—dealing with clients as they are leaving instead of coming in off the streets. I get to see the progress and success. I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

He even changed his schedule to be at Bell Shelter until 9:30 p.m., so that he can hang out with the clients when they’re back from class and work. When he was young, Mejia remembers his mom always having people over—hosting barbeques or welcoming those without somewhere to stay. “My mom always said, ‘The kindness I do to others will be given back to my children one day,’” Mejia said. “She was right.”

JonDeputy Jon Deputy spent 29 years prison for second-degree murder after an armed jewelry robbery. “When I first got to prison, I thought, ‘These are horrible people—the worst of the worst,’ but then I realized that I was the same as they are and I had to change,” he said. “It felt so weird walking into Starbucks after almost 30 years of no freedom—it was an unbelievable high,” Deputy said. “I’m still on that high. I understand where I came from and thank God every day for a second chance at life.” Two days after his release, in May 2007, Deputy entered the emergency shelter at Bell Shelter. Before long he moved into the main shelter and found a job rolling 50-gallon oil drums into trucks for $8 an hour. After 90 days, he secured a job as a truck driver with Dub Harris. He is interviewing now for a job with Time Warner Cable and also working towards certification to be a private racquet stringer (he bought his own $3,000 electronic stringer) on the side. “No matter how bad things get, I’ll never ever think of doing a crime again,” Deputy said. “I know I have the strength to do that now.” Jon, now almost 54, has a few months left to live in the trailers at Bell Shelter, paying $146 monthly rent. “Bell Shelter is a stepping stone, they give you the tools you need to get on your feet,” Deputy said. “If you’re down and out, no matter where you’ve been, they’ll take you in.” —Christin Davis

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Bell Shelter

Restoring hope for the future In December 2008, Silvia Salcedo, 45, celebrated eight months of sobriety—following 30 years as an addict. Her days now as a Wellness Center client are much different from when she lived in her truck on the streets; there she was stabbed, shot, and constantly demoralized. “I was slowly committing suicide out there,” Salcedo said. “When I came to the Wellness Center, they provided food, shelter and the knowledge of what was really going on and why my life had the same cycle. In six months, my life has taken a new direction.” Salcedo entered the Wellness Center at Bell Shelter on March 11, 2008. She freely admits she is still working through the 12 steps of recovery and trying to overcome all the suppressed emotion within her. Salcedo was molested as a child and grew up angry—at God and at her parents for not protecting her. “I always wanted to hide what was hurting me, so I became the ‘tough kid,’” Salcedo said. Between the ages of 10 to 16, Salcedo constantly ran away from home. She would stay with other people—a “gypsy’s life,” as she calls it. “I was running from myself, from my hurt and my pain,” Salcedo said. Using drugs started out as fun when she was a kid, but then the drugs became more available and she didn’t pay attention to the amount she was using. “I wasn’t having fun anymore,” Salcedo said. “It went from something I wanted to do, to something I needed to do.” “Once the addiction started, I didn’t feel worthy

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“Once the addiction started, I didn’t feel worthy enough to ask for forgiveness. I thought ‘If I couldn’t love me, how could God love me?’ The hardest person to forgive is yourself.” enough to ask for forgiveness,” Salcedo said, her voice quivering. “I thought, ‘If I couldn’t love me, how could God love me?’ The hardest person to forgive is yourself.” With nowhere else to turn, she finally called the last person she thought would help her, her estranged husband. A recovering addict himself, he was by her side immediately and showed her no judgment. “I believe his actions were my first step to seeing God, that this man I’d hurt so badly was there to offer a friendly hand,” she said. Silvia then made the decision to enter Bell Shelter for help. “I had nothing when I got here,” she said. “They didn’t look at my bank account or where I’d been, all they knew is I was someone asking for help.” Salcedo said she arrived broken but was given a chance to reflect on her life. “I didn’t have to worry about hustling for a meal or finding a place to sleep,” she said. “I was given some pride here.” She said she was offered a solution at Bell Shelter. “The solution is God,” she said. “Since reconnecting with him, I’ve been blessed. Most importantly, he’s

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teaching me to love myself.” For six months, Salcedo said she has been dealing with her “defective characters—pride, anger, selfishness, violence,” and now, she is considered a big sister who helps newcomers with the initial fears entering the Wellness Center. Salcedo has started taking college courses in the hope of one day becoming a drug counselor. As she said, “God only knows he’s given me enough experience in the field.” Salcedo wakes everyday, reconnects with God, asks forgiveness, and reminds herself that she is an addict. “Everyday I say, ‘God, I know I’m going to get loaded again—but not today, give me today,’” she said. “Slowly that time is accumulating. “The staff here is always giving, always willing to listen,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s not strict—it’s the Army after all, but it’s a family here. “I was in the desert, dying and killing myself,” she said. “The Salvation Army Wellness Center [at Bell Shelter] is an oasis; it gave me time to start again.” —Christin Davis


Bell Shelter

Restoring hope for the future

Photo by Christin Davis

Donna Flores

Donna Flores used methamphetamines for 20 years until she reached a stopping point in the road. Literally. After picking up three cases of meth— enough to spend eight years in prison if caught— Flores was suddenly involved in a high-speed police chase. “At that point, my goal was suicide-by-cop,” Flores said. “But I honestly heard God’s voice say, ‘If you give up the drugs, I’ll give you life back.’” She was arrested and sentenced to 17 days in jail plus a drug rehabilitation program—the Wellness Center at Bell Shelter. “I came in with nothing, no one and nowhere to go,” Flores said. She spent six months in the Wellness Center before transitioning into the shelter, where she lived for 18 months.

Once a tattoo artist by trade, Flores said, “I realized I didn’t want to work on the outside of people anymore; I wanted to work on their inside.” Flores enrolled in classes at East Los Angeles College and eventually received certification to be a chemical dependency counselor. She now works at the Foley House, a recovery center for women. “I call myself a miracle in progress,” she said. Flores returns to Bell Shelter for meetings and to share her experience with the new clients. “We all can recover,” she said. “There are people at Bell that care and can show you the way.” Flores will soon celebrate three years clean. Now reunited with her five children, ages 16-30, they are already debating who gets to bake this year’s celebratory cake. —Christin Davis

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Restoring hope for the future