Life on the Streets

12/17/2017 .
Diane Calcaterra  .  Volunteer Storyteller

“One of my earliest memories was of my dad crying as he walked into my room,” said Jim. “He knelt down at my bed, waking me from sleep, and said two words — ‘I’m sorry’ — and then he was gone.”

As a nine-year-old, Jim faced the reality of his parents’ divorce without much support. Over the next few years, his life spiraled out of control. “My mom was abusive, but I was forced to live with her after my dad left,” recalled Jim. “The abuse stopped when she got remarried, but my stepfather was a rigid disciplinarian and, although I needed discipline, I never measured up to his expectations.”

Feeling unloved and increasingly depressed, Jim became rebellious and chose to self-medicate. “My drug of choice was whatever was available,” said Jim. “Anything to escape from reality, and that became my focus in life. I just wanted to feel good. With drugs, I thought I had found something to make me feel better.” Jim’s drug and alcohol use escalated to addiction and caused behavioral issues at home and at school.

At the age of 13, Jim’s father came back to try to help his son. While life with Jim’s stepfather had been strict, it felt the opposite with his dad. “I went from a highly structured environment to a home with no rules,” said Jim. “I was wild, took more drugs, ran away, and got into a lot of trouble.” Jim’s dad had remarried, and they had young children. Jim felt that his dad only saw him as an extra burden on his new family. His fears were confirmed when his dad unexpectedly dropped Jim off at a mental hospital for minors.

“The whole experience was very traumatic,” said Jim. “I was in a lockdown cell for the first two days. My dad said I was there to address my drug problems and depression, but the hospital was just his dumping ground.” The hospital couldn’t find a reason to treat Jim, so they released him, forcing him to search for a new home once again. Jim’s self-esteem had hit an all-time low. It felt like nobody wanted him around.

Jim bounced around, searching for acceptance and a place to call home. He spent time living with his grandparents in Idaho, attended a year of military school in Missouri, and then moved back in with his mom and stepfather for a few months. Eventually, Jim’s addiction and destructive lifestyle intensified, forcing him to live on the streets, or couchsurfing with willing friends.

“I didn’t care,” explained Jim. “My self-image was so low, I felt I didn’t have anything to lose, and felt that I was better off on the streets than at home.”

Jim found some work that paid in cash so he could continue to fund his addictions. Surprisingly, the combination of work and structure caused him to reevaluate his priorities. “I began to have this underlying sense that there was more to life,” said Jim. “I actually had a strong work ethic and loved landscaping. I also liked the physical labor, but that environment was filled with drug use. Most of my co-workers got high, too.”

Jim enrolled in school during the day and worked a freight-loading job at night. When his night job fell through, Jim’s father stepped in again to help out. “At the time, he literally pulled me off the streets and gave me a home,” Jim recalled. “I was tired of the struggle of being on the streets, trying to find a place to sleep, always searching for a hot meal.”

For a period of time, Jim stayed sober and in school, and became a motivated student. He obtained a license to practice physical therapy. “By the time I had reached my 30s, I had kept a steady job and was making good money. I had a house and three cars — everything I thought I wanted,” Jim said.

His life seemed successful, but Jim was still hurting from broken relationships and was still using drugs. And now he had the income he needed to fund his drug habit.

As his depression and isolation spiraled, Jim felt a sense that he needed to reach out to a higher power for help. Depressed and alone, Jim fell to his knees in the middle of the night and cried out to God. Without the strength to beat the addictions on his own, Jim’s prayer was specific. “I was literally crying, with tears in my eyes, as I asked God to bring someone into my life that I could have a relationship with,” he said. Shortly after, Jim met Melanie. In time, Jim shared the pain of his fractured life and opened up about his destructive habits. Melanie was comforting and encouraging, but she also wanted a man who shared her faith. “I knew by the second date that I wanted to be with her, but I didn’t know that becoming a Christian would be a requirement for marriage.” Melanie began inviting Jim to Saddleback Church.

“She wooed me with the band. She said they played great worship music,” Jim smiled and reminisced. “While I sat in church, it seemed as if Pastor Rick was speaking directly to me. I knew God brought Melanie into my life; that night I realized God brought me home to Saddleback. God brought me into a church family.”

“In the past, I sought help through counseling and psychiatry, and eventually came clean about my life, but it wasn’t until I had a relationship with Christ that I really started to heal,” said Jim. “I finished a Christ-centered 12-step program through Celebrate Recovery. My recovery is going to be life-long process.”

Jim found great satisfaction in serving others through various ministries at Saddleback, and once he began getting more involved, he wanted to give back to others that faced the same struggles he fought through. Jim co-founded the Sole2Soul Homeless Outreach program to reach out and help homeless men and women living on the streets.

“It’s easy for me to build friendships and make a connection — since I was homeless, I can relate to the challenges they face,” Jim said. “Sole2Soul puts me back on the front lines. When I walk into a homeless camp, I’m able to minister to people who aren’t able to come to church. I never felt worthy of love, or had the ability to love, so I’m just extending the love of my church family to others and exposing them to a normal and healthy relationship.”

From addiction to recovery, Jim’s life has come full circle. “I praise God that I’ve been able to walk with others in their journey of getting off the street,” Jim said. “It took me two decades, the love of my wife, and the redeeming power of Christ to get me on the right track and discover the purpose God created me for.”

To learn more about Saddleback's homeless outreach, visit