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By Eric Heinz

It’s all too familiar for him—the concrete benches, the foliage around Doheny State Beach, crashing waves just a few yards away.

Andrew Foster said he was once homeless and used the beach as a refuge with his ex-wife and two children, trying to make it through each day.

“We camped here, and I know pretty much everything about this place,” Foster said.

What made Foster’s situation of poverty difficult was that he was drunk pretty much all the time, he said. His addiction started in his mid- to late-20s and gradually grew worse.

“It’s crazy, being here sober, being here for an event,” Foster said while attending a gathering of people in similar situations, all in an encampment that was once his home. “It got to a point where it wasn’t really an option anymore. It wasn’t whether I was going to drink; I was going to drink. It consumed my life to the point where I was here with my wife and two babies, pushing a stroller around. We stashed our stroller and all our gear right behind that bush.”

After his children were taken away by Child Protective Services, Foster said he wanted to seek help. He said he’s been sober since Dec. 6, 2015.

“I’ve never been sober that long (since starting drinking),” he said, adding he has been able to maintain his sobriety through his faith.

Foster is now living at a home provided through Joshua House in San Clemente, a group home network and employer for recovering addicts, and he is preparing to move to the second phase of recovery at a home in San Juan Capistrano. He said since making milestones in his recovery, he has been in contact with his ex-wife and is able to see his children. He said he’s also rebuilding relationships with other family members.

“I’m studying to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Saddleback College,” he said. “I feel so much better about the future.”

On Sept. 15, Luminance Recovery Center, of San Juan Capistrano, hosted a multi-faith gathering and candle lighting at Doheny State Beach to bring people in recovery together and to celebrate their progress through treatment.

Michael Castanon, the CEO and founder of Luminance, spoke during the short candlelight ceremony. Joining him was Pastor Pete Cropsey, a recovering addict who said he’s been sober 24 of the last 29 years with a couple “slips.”

“We want to break down the walls of separation that dogma and religion and legalism set up and focus on the real deal, which is people are dying of addiction every day,” Cropsey said of the event. “It’s time to come together and transform people’s lives so they can have purpose. Once you have tenure in recovery, you kind of owe a debt to stay passionate and stay there for the new guy who doesn’t know how to navigate his life.”

Cropsey said he tries to stay as close to the programs he’s been through because when he strays from it, he’s most susceptible to relapse.

Asked about the backlash from neighbors who are against sober living homes in their neighborhoods, Castanon said his organization wants to change their views on recovery homes and show them they can be amicable.

“We’ve come into the industry wanting to challenge the status quo, and we want to transform the industry,” Castanon said. “Our motives are to reinvent addiction treatment, because it suffers from stigma in and of itself and it has been unethical in many areas.”

Castanon said they want to support the providers that are helping people recover.

“It’s going to take time, and we’re on a quest of discovery to try to do it better and have better outcomes,” Castanon said. “At our level of care, we believe to have staff members on site for structure and stability. We try to be good neighbors, and we want to be sensitive to the neighbors.”

Castanon said before Luminance opens a house intended for recovering addicts, they try to make sure the neighborhood is comfortable with its presence.

“As a nation, as a community, we need to come together and find a humane solution to a very difficult situation,” Castanon said.

Luminance has five homes in South Orange County and has one licensed house in San Clemente.

One of the homes in San Clemente was listed on a document obtained by San Clemente Times as having closed due to not being able to stay in compliance with the city’s new zoning ordinance. Castanon said that home is still in operation. The home had one complaint against it from 2015 to July 31, 2016, and no citations issued against it.

According to the state’s Department of Health Care Services, the home Luminance operates with a license set to expire Aug. 31, 2017. The home’s population is stated to be no more than six people at a time.

“We’ve had no issues with San Clemente as a city or as a municipality. They’ve treated us very well,” Castanon said.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the San Clemente City Council passed a resolution in “strong support,” according to the document, of a federal bill that would amend the Fair Housing Act to regulate group homes, including sober living residences.

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