Christy Owen, ravaged by a 20-year addiction to crystal meth, slept in a makeshift shelter among the brush where 19th Street ends at Talbert Regional Park in Costa Mesa — a place known as “the jungle” among the city’s homeless people.
Her experience with homelessness started after she was laid off in March 2013 from her job as a payroll tax supervisor. Within three months she was living in her car, which she had to part ways with a few months later.
Owen spent her days under the control of an emotionally abusive ex-husband who shared her addiction. Together they searched for their next high.
Then, while reading Elizabeth George’s detective novel “Banquet of Consequences,” she decided she’d had enough.
“I was mad at myself for continuing to go back to a relationship I wasn’t happy with,” Owen said.
Now, after getting sober-living treatment and living and working as a house manager at Colette’s Children’s Home in Huntington Beach, Owen, 57, signed a lease last month for an apartment in Fullerton.
She’s also been hired as a full-time agency operations representative with Ultimate Software, a payroll management company.
Owen shared her story last weekend with about 50 people at the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa with the goal of inspiring those who are homeless to believe a better life is possible.
While listening to Owen, the soup kitchen guests dined on pancakes, eggs, cereal, fruit, pastries, milk and juice. They also were invited to take home food donated by local grocery stores.
Shannon Santos, Someone Cares’ executive director, said the organization feeds not only the homeless but also low-income senior citizens who may not have enough money to feed themselves every day.
Santos said she would be thrilled if Owen’s story inspires even one person to climb out of homelessness.
“It moved me so tremendously that if her voice can be heard by everyone who eats here, it’s a true inspiration,” Santos said.
Santos invited Dawson Yrisarri, a senior at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, to shoot video of Owen’s speech that will be included in a short documentary about the soup kitchen that he’s producing for community service hours required by his school. He said he was drawn to the story of how the soup kitchen helps people reinvent their lives.
While living in “the jungle,” Owen was frequently approached by park ranger Matt Andersen and city of Costa Mesa outreach worker Doreen Penfil because of her illegal camping. Penfil asked Owen to call her when she was ready to leave her ex-husband.
“They watched out for me,” Owen said. “I think they cared to look for me a little more than others just to make sure I was OK.”
Someone Cares Soup Kitchen also played a big part in helping Owen get off the streets. While she was homeless, she ate there and helped volunteers sort donated clothing.
“I couldn’t come back here and not say I was doing something to improve my situation,” she said.
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.