My name is Maria Alexander. My journey to seek help was not easy. I spent many years homeless in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.
I moved from Chicago to California in 1980. I went to college and studied film production and theater. Eventually, I started dabbling in heroin. Little by little I lost my edge. I became addicted. I started getting arrested and ultimately lost my job. I spent the next years in and out of LA County jail for drug charges. Bouncing between homelessness and incarceration for 15 years.
Throughout this time, I didn’t address my heroin addiction. My daughter was taken from me by Child Protective Services (CPS) at least three times because I couldn’t stay out of trouble. Sometimes I would get out, get a job, find a place and do what I had to do to get my daughter back.
But I was never honest about the help I needed. I didn’t know what treatment was and I had gotten used to jail. When proposition 36 passed, there was an increase in drug treatment programs, but I thought the people that attended those were fools. “Why would they do a drug treatment program for 6 months, when I could go to jail for 2 months and be done with it.” So it didn’t appeal to me.
Eventually, I grew tired of running around in the streets. I felt ashamed but grew to learn that the drugs couldn’t take away the shame and guilt. I was 39 and about to turn 40. I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I finally decided I had enough.
I went to a residential treatment center in North Hollywood and got involved with the Center for Living and Learning. They gave me a lot of support, and an opportunity to develop my work skills, habits, and find the support I needed.
Over the course of time, my dedication, my sobriety, my professional growth, and commitment to the Center for Living and Learning, led me to become the Executive Director. Since 2005 I have been running the organization. I want people to hear about my experience and remember that it is so important to work together. We must work to support each other.