Stephen moved into his new apartment at WHCHC’s Sierra Bonita Apartments in West Hollywood, after almost 10 years of homelessness.
“I love it here” he laughs. “It is so easy to get off the street and
into the building. It is so convenient. I just push the buzzer
and the gate opens and I’m in the building. I love it. I love my
neighbors too, they’re pretty cool!
“I swim at West Hollywood Park swimming pool” he says, and
then “…and this weekend a friend is taking me surfing!” He
works out at Poinsettia Park, just a few blocks from his
apartment, and has every intention of walking again.
Stephen’s life has taken many twists and turns and he’s had
more than his share of challenges that, in the end, left him
without a place to live.
Born in Laguna Beach, California, Stephen and his family moved to Saigon in Vietnam for 10 years where his father worked for the CIA. After returning to the US, they moved to Mammoth where he finished junior high school, and then back to Southern California, where he became a championship surfer in the mid-70s.
“I graduated from High School, was on the football team, and went to Saddleback College for awhile, but some of the courses were too hard. That was when I was an alcoholic, and a lot of the football players were heavy drinkers. So it was a very bad environment for me. I was an alcoholic by the time I was 15.”
Stephen enjoyed trying several different kinds of jobs, including the entertainment industry, but drinking was a major problem for him. I got into a bad fight with a friend when we were drinking, and while we were wrestling I got hit in the back with an elbow, and that left me with a painful herniated disc for many years. At one point I couldn’t even get up and so I had to have back surgery. I was using drugs after the surgery and I know that delayed my recovery so much that I was unable to walk.”
“I have been off alcohol for 23 years now,” he says. “I’m not going back to that life, ever. I’m away from those people. And I’m 3 years, 8 months and 14 days off of crystal. I prayed to God to have the drugs removed from me, and it worked. I don’t even have to go to meetings to stay clean. I got the full gift from God, where I don’t even have to worry that I’m going to slip or something. No, that’s not even possible. I have family that love me and they don’t want to see me going backwards.”
A friend allowed Stephen to live on her porch when he was homeless. “After I got my Section 8 Certificate, I still couldn’t find any landlord who would rent to me because I was in a wheelchair. One building manager saw me coming and got in her car and drove away,” he shrugs his shoulders and laughs with his characteristic optimism.
“My Section 8 Voucher expired twice while I was waiting for an apartment, but I was ready ahead of time and got it renewed before it expired.” He credits Inna Khariton, Disability Specialist at the West Hollywood Comprehensive Service Center at Plummer Park, Ted Landrieu at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, and Anna Palomera at the LA County Housing Authority for helping him along the way.
“When I was on the streets, I was never lazy. Every morning I’d have my list of places to go. I considered it my job to find a place to live—no sitting around. I was always looking on the maps where to go, and calling people to make appointments. Not one day was my cell phone not charged. I had to be there when people called.” So when Anna at the Housing Authority called him to tell him he got his apartment, he was ready for the call. “I always had faith that everything would eventually work out.”
Stephen’s advice for those still struggling: “I would just tell people to clean up their lives, and not bring people around to their apartments who do drugs. Drugs and alcohol can take your apartment away. I try to encourage people to get clean if they are using, or trying to get their voucher back if they are on the streets, and to not use drugs or alcohol ever again. Not one day at a time—go one year at a time. I’ve been going to AA since I was 15, and I got clean off of alcohol when I was 26.”
“Part of why I can’t walk is because I was using drugs and drinking. I want to be able to walk again. I want to get a job again. I’m on my second chapter. My first chapter was getting clean; then looking for an apartment; not being lazy; always having my cell phone charged. Now this is my second chapter—learning to walk again, paying my rent and being happy.