Drive down most any street in Menifee, and you will see row after row of pretty, well-kept homes. Green, manicured yards, rose gardens, children playing basketball and riding bikes, Dads washing cars and Moms watching children play. In our vibrant Senior Community, we see active Seniors playing golf, shopping and socializing. Many of us only see the color coordinated shutters and trim on homes where families gather for holiday meals, evenings of television, and the fulfillment of the American Dream. Most Menifee residents believe that everyone in our city lives just as they do, working hard for their dream of a home and family.
Carlos Lopez has been a Menifee resident for 11 years, and for 10 of those years, he lived on the streets, right here in Menifee.
Homelessness does not only occur in large cities, and the homeless faces we drive by daily are not just those of transients, people from some other city who are just passing through. Carlos Lopez came to Menifee to live with his mother when she moved here in 2000. Shortly thereafter, he was homeless.
Carlos is a Peruvian immigrant, migrating to the United States in 1975 with his family. His father was an alcoholic, and once in school in the United States, Carlos was introduced to drugs and alcohol. "I wanted to fit in. I wanted to hang out with the guys. Being new, it seemed like the only way." Growing up with the influence of an alcoholic environment, Carlos did as many young people do and gravitated towards a lifestyle with which they were accustomed. It didn't take long for the grip of addiction to take hold of the young man. He graduated from high school, was married for a time, and held positions of responsibility in his employment over the years, all while addiction tore away at the fiber of his being. Eventually he lost everything when his only focus became his next drink.
"I was sober for 3 months at the longest, since I started drinking. Nothing could keep me from drinking. Even the fear of the streets couldn't keep me sober. Nothing could keep me sober. I just had to drink."
Carlos disliked panhandling so he did odd jobs to earn the money while homeless to support his habit. Sleeping under trees, under bridges, on the sidewalk, behind restaurants, and for many years, behind the Veterans Hall, Carlos and other homeless individuals became a community of their own. They all did their best to take care of each other, but time and time again, Carlos watched his friends die around him. "They all died, one after another. Anthony fell when he was drunk, hit his head on the sidewalk, and died. I remember Nancy, flying her sign, and then one day, she was dead too. And then Jerry. Jerry was my friend. . ." Carlos trailed off, unable to speak of how Jerry died. "When Jerry died, it really hurt. We were so close, so close. . . "
"We are regular people; we are all the same. Whether we live in a house, or on the streets, we are all people. But no one wants to see the homeless as people. Except Phil."
Phil is Philip Hatcher, another Menifee resident. Philip and his friend Andrea Bonnici have been going into the streets of Menifee and Temecula feeding and ministering to the homeless and those with addiction. Their mission is to assist these individuals into programs that will treat their addiction, help them find purpose, and lead productive lives. Five of the people they have helped, out of the countless others who were successful, died as a result of the cold turkey method of detoxification. Detoxing alcoholics and drug addicts without the aid of medication can be gravely dangerous, often resulting in death. Many of the rehabilitation facilities are not equipped to deal with an addict who is right off the streets, and the results are death.
In light of this realization, Philip and Andrea started Jericho House. Jericho House is a non-profit organization that feeds, ministers and assists the homeless locally. At this time, Philip and Andrea are seeking consideration for licensing to facilitate a residential detoxification program. They are also seeking donations of food and money, to assist them in their ultimate goal, which is to provide a place for the homeless to get the help they need to go from the streets to rehab, in a safe manner.
"Phil was in the streets everyday, sometimes twice a day, feeding me, ministering to me and praying with me. Then one night I had a dream. I dreamed of Jesus. He was walking down the road and there were so many people following Him. I tried to run after Him, to reach out and touch Him. I knew if I could just touch His robe, His clean, white, spotless robe, I would be healed. I wanted Him, I wanted Him. I finally made my way through the crowd, reached to touch Him, and then I woke up. I was so sad, because I didn't get to touch his robe. And when I woke up, I was lying on the ground, outside, and realized I who I was."
A week later Carlos was sober, and he has been ever since. For the last year, Carlos has been putting his life back together. He lives with his Mother and Stepfather now in Menifee, and they are so very proud of him. Carlos has a job as a caregiver and is a student at Mt. San Jacinto College, in his second semester. "I prayed to be delivered from this disease, and I was. I am delivered."
For more information on how you can help Philip and Andrea in their mission to help the homeless contact Jericho House at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 951.219.2573.