Article 24

Drug Rehab Halfway House Helps Homeless Women Reclaim Their Lives

When you think of California's Napa Valley, the state's premier wine-producing region, you picture miles of manicured vineyards basking in the warm Pacific sun, not disturbing images of hundreds of homeless people living in alleys and parks, many of them desperately needing alcohol and drug rehab to salvage their lives.

But according to Community Action Napa Valley, a local social services agency, if you look more closely at the City of Napa, center of prosperous Napa County, you will find nearly 350 homeless people. Nearly half of them are women, and many are trapped in the endless hell of alcohol and drug addiction. Alcohol and drug rehab help is locally available, but the question remains: If they graduate from a successful drug rehab program, where will they go when they graduate? In many instances, it might mean back to the streets.

That's why Nonita Mendez founded New Life Outreach when she was in the process of recovering from her own drug addiction 10 years ago. She was never homeless herself, but she saw the need for a temporary shelter for many people trying to get back on their feet after recovering from addictions.

A typical success for New Life Outreach is 28-year-old Jamie Jackson, who less than a year ago was addicted to alcohol and drugs and had spent three years roaming Napa's streets with other homeless people  Halfway House. She says she was high on drugs and babbling to her friends that she wanted to enter drug rehab. One day a friend dragged her into his van and took her to the hospital, where she enrolled in a 90-day drug rehab program.

"Every day I would get clear-minded," she to the Register when talking about her drug rehab experience. But a week before graduating, Jackson said she realized she had nowhere to go to but back to the streets. Then her counselor received a fax describing the New Life Outreach program.

Jackson was accepted at the halfway house, and now after three months Jackson has a steady job and is re-establishing a career as a certified nursing assistant. New Life Outreach has provided a safe haven while Jackson steers clear of drugs and alcohol.

Another success story concerns Karen Gurnari, 45, a former drug addict who was homeless with a 6-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, living in hotel rooms, a tent in the park or crashing at friend's homes. She moved into the halfway house, and soon found an affordable home for her family. "It completely changed my life," she said. "I learned how to trust, how to be a better parent and how to like myself better."

Not only has Nonita Mendez's vision helped reclaim lost lives, her actions also show how a true spirit of helping one's fellows can turn a community problem into a community solution, in this case helping women break the cycle of homelessness and addiction and gain a new sense of community following a successful drug rehab.

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