A Book of Dreams: Salvation Army helps those who fall get on right path again
When there’s a real desire to improve, everybody deserves at least two second chances, Capt. Dwaine Breazeale of the Salvation Army Modesto Citadel Corps said.
Sixty-year-old Robert Weigel, who has lived most of his life in Modesto and surrounding areas, is making the most of one of those chances right now. The until-recently homeless alcoholic is three and a half months sober and is in the Salvation Army’s transitional living program for veterans.
His chores at the army’s Berberian homeless shelter include helping with client intake and in the kitchen. He takes mandatory substance abuse classes and also learns about life skills including money management and nutrition.
“So you don’t have to eat Top Ramen the rest of your life,” Breazeale joked with him as the two men talked at the shelter recently.
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A carpenter by trade, but with other building skills, too, Weigel is hopeful of finding work at a Home Depot store in lumber, plumbing, electrical or some other department. He does handyman work, he said, like hanging ceiling fans, fixing gates and installing garbage disposals.
The U.S. Army vet is enrolled in the federal VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program, so early this month he secured permanent housing that allowed him to move out of the shelter. And with the new year, he plans to return to classes to earn his GED.
Weigel is in a far better situation than when sleeping in parks or a truck for several months between stays with the Salvation Army. Sitting with Breazeale in a meeting room at the Berberian shelter recently, he spoke of having nothing more than what fit in the backpack he wore. Of living in parks and hiding from the police at night. Of sheltering beneath baseball bleachers.
Occasionally, when intoxicated and wanting to spend a night in jail, “I would go to Teriyaki King, eat a nice dinner and call the cops on myself.”
The shelter was one of the places listed on a resource brochure police gave him. He was accepted into the veterans program there and detoxed. A nephew helped him get a vehicle last Christmas. Weigel saved up some money and relocated to Redding.
There, he got a girlfriend, who enjoyed drinking. “So I started drinking again, and about four months into it, I caught myself.” The couple split amicably, he said, and he returned to Modesto.
He lived in a motel and found construction work in the East Bay. But the guys he worked with liked to drink, too. Workdays often ended with pizza and beer, and one pitcher led to another. The commute was getting to him, too, and he began drinking not just after work, but in the mornings.
“I made the call here, and they accepted me back into the transitional program.” Returning to the Salvation Army, Weigel said, reminded him that there are those who care about him and understand that people relapse.
“Because he doesn’t burn bridges,” Breazeale said, “that’s one of the reasons why when he came back to us, we said, ‘Absolutely.’ Everybody gets at least two second chances.”
The transitional program for veterans is, of course, just one of many services offered by the Salvation Army Modesto Citadel Corps. Among others are its child development center, adult rehabilitation center, family social services, food distribution, Red Shield Community Center, emergency disaster relief and the Berberian shelter. This past year, more than 700 unduplicated people came through the shelter, Breazeale said.
All depend on the Citadel’s $5 million annual budget. To give a feel for how quickly that money can go, Breazeale said that its 26th annual Kettle Kickoff benefit in mid-November was the largest yet, netting just under $229,000. “That will sustain us not quite two and a half weeks.”
Though the Salvation Army is most visible during its holiday red-kettle fundraising, need knows no season, the captain said. And as an example of costs, he said that while 99 percent of the food the corps serves and distributes is free, “we have to rent warehouse space, pay the employees it takes to distribute the food, buy the trucks and pay insurance and fuel.”
The Citadel Corps is a lean operation, Breazeale said, with 18 fewer employees than when he arrived two and a half years ago. The staff reduction was achieved through attrition, not layoffs, he said. Staff was asked to do more with less. And because it was “the right thing to do,” some part-time employees were moved to full time, which gained them health insurance and retirement benefits.
Still, balancing the budget has been difficult the past couple of years, Breazeale said. “We’ve drawn down our reserves; they’re gone now. So going forward, we don’t have that option.”
Our Featured Agencies
Nov. 11: Cambridge Academies (Host House, Patterson)
Dec. 2: Turlock Gospel Mission
Dec. 9: Salvation Army
Dec. 16: Modesto Gospel Mission
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