‘I started doing drugs when I was 8′: Now-sober San Antonio man helping people at shelters get into recovery

SAN ANTONIO – As the homeless shelters pack with people escaping the cold, substance use recovery teams are seeing an opportunity. Volunteers can now offer resources to a larger network of people at Corazon Ministries’ Day Center.

Jesus Perez spends almost every day connecting with unsheltered people at the same day center where he used to get services.

“I was born and raised in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I started doing drugs when I was around 8 years old,” Perez said.

Some of those 50 years of drug use were spent in federal prison.

“I did many years while in gangs and all of that, and now I’m doing the right thing finally,” he said with a sigh of relief. “Me being connected with the right people, the right associations, makes me feel good.”

His one year of sobriety began in the Corazon Day Center.

“I used to be here as a client. I used to come and talk to my recovery coach,” he said.

Now, he’s a recovery coach, guiding others every day.

“We just got to do some good, and God will open doors. This place does a lot of good things,” Perez said to a man at the day center who had experienced homelessness and substance use disorder.

The recovery volunteers huddled in a quick meeting Monday as the day center swelled to 230 people who were there to get food, clothes, and rest.

The freezing weather brought in many people who don’t typically come in for resources, which presented an opportunity for the team to help them.

Day Center Director Brittney Ackerson said the timing has to be right for people to gain clarity about their life and future.

“If my stomach is rumbling and I haven’t eaten, and you’re talking to me about being sober, I’m not going to hear you until I can be calm. So that’s the biggest thing, is just calming everyone’s spirit, whether it’s their basic needs, hygiene, whatever it is,” Ackerman said.

She knows this because she’s been there. She’s been sober now for 10 years.

“Being unsheltered before and having substance use, we kind of pull together as a family. I don’t see these people as clients. I see them as family,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman’s recovery team can get people into any service they need.

“If they need detox, we can do treatment. If they want treatment, we can help them get health insurance,” she said.

They hold a recovery and/or spiritual meeting every Monday at the Day Center.

“With people with lived experience, whether it’s substance use, homelessness, mental health that come in and talk about what it’s like being sober, the challenges, the positives, getting family back, getting their life back,” Ackerman said.

Every current volunteer has used those services and attended those meetings.

They say trust is the main key to being open to receiving help.

“Whether it’s the West Side, South Side, or East Side –– people know me, people that I’ve been out there with. And they trust me, and I can trust in them. I can tell them they can do something with their life,” Perez said.

He uses that commonality, trust, and compassion to help others gain the gifts of sobriety and a second chance.

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