Veronica Chavarria and Joey Rubio
Veronica Chavarria and Joey Rubio at the McAlister Institute.

I used to live in a tent in the Chula Vista parks selling drugs and living the street life. Many of the people I was in contact with were recently out of prison with no job skills and it was not a surprise we would become homeless and would use drugs just to get by. McAlister Institute’s Work for Hope gave me a way out.

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The WFH program has helped hundreds of people a year get off the streets. It gives people a second chance. You get a part-time job four days a week, drug and alcohol treatment, and vocational training. It helped me get the life skills that I needed to succeed and stay off the streets.

I was deep in my addiction, and I was a gang member. I didn’t know about recovery. Then Joey Rubio came into my life. He was a drug and alcohol counselor in the WFH program. Now, my outlook is so much different. I am working for McAlister Institute as a drug counselor after successfully completing the program, and the cops that used to chase me are now working alongside me.

The WFH program gives you a starting point to be the person that you are meant to be. Society has a preconceived notion of what it is to be a homeless person. McAlister Institute ‘s WFH is exactly the opposite of that. It allows us not to settle for the life we once chose for ourselves.

I am an addict. I am always going to be an addict; however, the WFH program looks past our obstacles and allows us to grow into who we were meant to be. WFH opens the door of opportunity and doesn’t see us as another statistic.

McAlister Institute’s WFH helped me realize my potential. It could help so many more people if it was to receive more funding. Each year we are fighting to stay open so we can help more people get off the street.

Governments and politicians throw money at the homeless crisis without going to the street level to see what resources are needed to fight this problem. This program does that. It meets the homeless people where they are and offers a way out.

McAlister Institute offered me a job upon completion of the program and now I am amazed at the opportunities it has brought me. I am going to the courthouse to help people, not just for myself. This alone has been a tremendous help to my self-esteem.

When I first started using substances, I was forced to give my sister responsibility for my two kids. Now I am getting some of those responsibilities back and learning how to become a mother again. My story is like so many others in this program. That’s what makes it work.

It’s like a 12-step group. You have people helping other people that have been in the same situations, so they understand the struggle. Once these lessons are learned they stick with us, and we become able to move on in life in a more positive way.

There are approximately 10,264 homeless people in San Diego. That’s a 14% increase since just last year, and 5,171 of those homeless are sleeping outside like I was in the park. McAlister Institute’s WFH is a possible solution to this growing problem. If this was a countywide program homelessness in San Diego could be helped in a positive way. Getting people off the street and giving them dignity is one of the top priorities for the city government.

It takes a lot of resources to keep this work alive. Many people give their valuable time to this cause. I work with law enforcement like Lt. Frank Giaime of the Chula Vista Police Department who came up with the idea for the WFH program. However, the program needs funding to survive.

As a drug counselor in Little Italy, I also do outreach in the parks I used to sell dope in. I am living proof that this program works. I used to sell dope, now I sell hope.

Veronica Chavarria in in the Work for Hope program at the McAlister Institute.