Orange County Rescue Mission Gives ‘A Hand Up, Not a Handout’

Chuck Pelser and his three children at the Orange County Rescue Mission Village of Hope in Tustin, Calif., in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Orange County Rescue Mission)

SANTA ANA, Calif.—Several years ago, Chuck Pelser’s life hit rock bottom. Heavily addicted to drugs, he had lost his home, and his children were scared and suffering as they witnessed him spiraling out of control. At one point, things got so bad that despite his love for his kids, Pelser attempted to commit suicide.

single father of three children was desperate to change his life and that of his kids, so he swallowed his pride and moved in with his mother, telling himself that the unstable motel life they had been living was part of the reason things were falling apart around him.

But deep-rooted issues continued to cripple Pelser and his family. He was drowning in debt, consumed by addiction and the life of shame he was leading. His knew his children needed love and stability, but he was simply in over his head, they needed more than he could provide.

“That’s when I finally broke down and fell to my knees,” Pelser recalled. “I just couldn’t take it anymore. I knew they deserved more from their father.”

Looking for a place to heal and forge a new start, Pelser and the children left their old life behind and moved into the Orange County Rescue Mission (OCRM) Village of Hope.

“It was a smooth transition for the children, but I had to sober up from more than 20 years of addictions. Yet, I was not alone,” Pelser said.

Located in Tustin, Village of Hope provides long-term transitional, recuperative, and emergency housing for its residents who, once accepted into the sober-living, faith-based program, have access to comprehensive services including counseling, job training, medical and dental care, as well as the support and guidance to help them to back to health and self-sufficiency.

Families like the Pelser’s can stay together at the Village, which provides an opportunity for parents and children to reestablish relationships, routines, share meals, attend school, receive medical and dental treatment, as well as counseling, all in a safe and stable environment.

“What makes us different is we don’t just provide shelter and food, we provide a whole program to address a variety of uniquely challenging issues that throw peoples’ lives off track,” Jim Palmer, President and CEO of OCRM, told Pezou.

Orange County Rescue Mission in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2021. (John Fredricks/ Pezou)

“Whether it’s because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, divorce, or job loss—all issues that oftentimes lead to addiction—the core issues people struggle with have to be addressed for our residents to be successful after they leave our program,” Palmer said. “We’re about a hand up, not a handout.”

Pelser was able to utilize childcare and tutoring services available at the Village, which allowed him to concentrate on his own work. children began to thrive, which encouraged him even more. He took parenting classes, and Village staff worked tirelessly with Pelser to improve every aspect of his life.

Each day, Pelser worked on rebuilding his relationship with his kids, and after a while he began to see hope for his future, and that of his family, after so many years of struggle and torment.

“My kids finally trusted me again, they felt safe,” Pelser said. “ Rescue Mission didn’t just put a roof over our heads. My children were able to witness the miracle of their father’s transformation to be a man of God.”

Pelser graduated from the Village of Hope program and today has a full-time job at Tustin Mazda, where income and advancement opportunities keep him striving to continue to improve.

Having caught up with their studies during their stay at the Village, the Pelser children have done well in school and participate in a slew of extracurricular activities.

When asked how he views the future, Pelser said, “I hope to see all three of my children grow up, go to college, continue to grow in the Lord, and see me as a sober-minded father.”

“I plan to share my story with single parents,” said Pelser.

dormitory, classroom, and office area of the Orange County Rescue Mission in Tustin, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2021. (John Fredricks/ Pezou)

Addressing Addiction, Not Just Housing

In addition to continuing hardships resulting from the pandemic, Jim Palmer says that at the core of the issues facing those who come to OCRM seeking help is well-meaning, but ill-conceived public policymaking, combined with rampant drug addiction that is not readily acknowledged or being dealt with at its core.

OCRM screens nearly 1,000 people a year, and like Pelzer, most struggle with addiction that often results from deeply rooted mental, emotional, or situational issues that must be addressed. Palmer noted that 87 percent of the people they screen self-identify as having addiction or mental health struggles.

“When considering that half of people who truly have mental health issues don’t know they have an issue, that figure is higher,” Palmer told Pezou. “But the real issue for most is substance abuse. We know this because we drug test, and no one is going to come to us and say they have a drug problem when they don’t. It just doesn’t happen.”

Palmer said that while there has been a significant movement in accommodation by the government to pay for programs aimed at housing, unless the addiction and mental health issues of those being housed are fully addressed, they are doomed to fail.

“Billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent via the federal CARES Act, but really they’re basically creating what we used to call ‘the projects’—housing that HUD funded in other parts of the country,” Palmer said.

“y’re taking all these broken people and sticking them in one spot with no resources to address the addiction that caused their homelessness in the first place,” Palmer said.

“While the government can fund all the housing it wants, it can’t force participation by the people they are housing in the types of programs necessary for them to escape the cycle of addiction that is plaguing their lives. It’s simply creating a more vicious cycle.”

Pezou : Orange County Rescue Mission Gives ‘A Hand Up, Not a Handout’