Mario Duron at Flying Pig: "Pot is absolutely a gateway drug."
  • Mario Duron at Flying Pig: "Pot is absolutely a gateway drug."
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There was at least one time when struggling addict Mario Duron says the system screwed him. “I had been through drug court. I had been sober for eight months. My probation officer visited my house and found these little plastic Corona bottles which were only used for decoration. Still, they said that was a violation and they took me back to jail. I just decided to go on the run, I thought they weren’t trying to help me.”

Chris Megison rails against anything close to “hand-outs.”

Chris Megison rails against anything close to “hand-outs.”

Make no mistake. Duron, 36 of Vista, says there were plenty of times when he was the bad guy.

“When I was young we moved from the country to the city,” says Duron about growing up in Escondido. “That’s where I first encountered gang life. I started getting harassed. It was hard to fit in. I had to make friends just to survive.” He says he started smoking marijuana in elementary school. “I don’t care what anybody says, pot is absolutely a gateway drug. I started skipping school in sixth grade. By 7th or 8th grade I got off the rails. That’s when my drug addiction took a curve and I started doing meth. I started slipping through the cracks. When I stole my mom’s car I ended up in juvenile hall.”

He ended up in both the Donovan and Chino correctional facilities for felony charges including evading police in a high-speed chase and possession of a loaded firearm. “Every time I was released I ended up going on the run. The whole time I didn’t think I had a problem. When my dad died I started using heroin...For a while I was cooking meth in Tijuana. I really don’t know how I ended up being alive.”

He finally hit desperation at 33. “I was willing to try anything and everything.” A probation officer who understood his readiness to change steered him into the Alpha Project, a non-profit that helps people with drug addiction and homelessness.

Duron says it was the system that ultimately helped pull him out of his drug swamp, thanks to his court-supervised stay with the Alpha Project’s live-in Vista facility called Casa Raphael. “They start you in a group of 12. They told us that statistics show that only one of 12 actually make it. Out of that first group, three of us became productive members of society. I guess you could say we broke the mold.”

After ten months in Casa Raphael, Vista’s Flying Pig restaurant took a chance on Duron.

“I was hired in January of last year. The chef knew my background. He started me as a dishwasher. I went to prepping and pantry fry, to the grill, and then to saute. Now I’m the senior cook.” Duron is grateful to the Flying Pig. “That was my first paycheck job. Last year I got my first apartment.” He is now leaving for a full-time maintenance job with the Alpha Project. “My end goal is to become a drug and alcohol counselor. I want to help other people going through what I went through.”

Treating the addicted and the homeless has become a burgeoning industry as local governments increasingly turn to Alpha Project and other groups for help. At least one outspoken leader in the effort to fight addiction/homelessness often makes it clear that his path to wellness is superior to others. Chris Megison, founder and CEO of Solutions for Change, spoke at an Oceanside City Council meeting in October imploring the council to actually turn down its share of a one-time grant of $18.8-million because it accepted a so-called “housing first” concept of immediately providing shelter to needy people. The council did not agree with Megison and voted to accept the HEAP (Homeless Emergency Aid Program) funds.

Megison champions a tough love approach to homelessness and frequently rails against anything close to “hand-outs” or housing first approach. “I was strongly cautioning how the state now mandates only one methodology, requiring housing first,” he said of his city council appearance. “If you can use [state grant money] only one way it can be a nightmare for Oceanside or any other community.”

He says he is proud that Solutions for Change “said no” to federal and state money. At a public meeting on homelessness in Oceanside on August 10 he told a group that 60 percent of Solutions for Change funding comes from its own “enterprise” income from its hydroponic farms. He says the other 40 percent comes from private donations. When asked about the fact that Solutions for Change has clients that use federally-funded vouchers, Megison said that that voucher income is not put into the main Soluitions For Change operating fund and is instead used for maintenance and “operations of an apartment complex.”

Megison met recently with Tim Yzaguirre, executive director of Oceanside’s Bread of Life about the possibility of merging Solutions For Change efforts with Bread of Life at Bread Of Life's Oceanside campus. The two agreed not to combine but Megison did contact Bread of Life’s landlord. One person connected with the city of Oceanside said that contact may have triggered the Bread of Life’s significant rent increase from $10,000 to $16,000 a month. Yzaguirre did not want to talk about specific numbers but he said Bread Of Life was in fact hit with a 40 percent increase in its rent, and that traditional rent increases had always been in the three to five per cent range.

If Bread of Life gets elbowed out of its longtime campus, Yzaguirre says he is happy to accept it. “We are a Christian-based organization. If God wants us at this location, no one can change that. If I’m supposed to be here, I’ll be here.”

Bread Of Life is run with an unpaid staff of over 100 volunteers. The payroll for the Solutions For Change staff is over $1-million a year. Megison says the two groups should not be compared.

“There are three different types of intervention," explains Megison. "Bread Of Life is an outreach that provides food to homeless people. They are a relief effort. Solutions For Change is also about recovery and restoration. They don’t do any of that.”

Bread OF Life’s Yzaguirre disagrees. “We also do restoration. The whole point of a church is restoration. That’s why we are opening the Life Skills Academy in September that will give people skills with finances, job readiness, nutrition and health.”

Recovered abuser-turned-cook Duron does not agree with Megison. “I think every person deals with getting clean differently. The same program that worked for me may not work for the next person. It’s like making a meal. There is really no one right way to make a dish.”

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Comments

ceehound619 Aug. 13, 2019 @ 4:15 p.m.

40% rent increase is almost criminal....they’re done the same thing to merchants in Seaport Village....all for a place that’s gonna be demolished and rebuilt anyway.

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AlexClarke Aug. 14, 2019 @ 6:49 a.m.

It seems that it is always someone else's fault. No personal responsibility for the choices they make.

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Cmegison Aug. 14, 2019 @ 6:35 p.m.

This is a textbook example of how a “reporter” trashes the credibility and integrity of media journalism. For the record, I think what Mario has done for himself, and the program that supported him doing it is great! I also think that Tim and Bread of Life are doing the Lords work in exceptional ways! The remarks to the City Council (all the way back from Oct 2018) did not criticize other programs. I questioned and confronted the logic of the state forcing a one size fits all top down legislative mandate that requires cities to help the homeless with one approach. It is an approach that REQUIRES drug allowed housing (even meth and heroin!) and mandates the elimination of work requirements! The approach strips the nonprofits ability to practice personal accountability for able bodied persons!

There is a difference between criticizing the state policies and those that are mandated to deliver those policies. This “reporter’s” bias was so evident during the interview that I had to tell him that if he printed what I guessed he might print, that he (and this paper) would never ever get another interview from me or Solutions ever again. His rep is widely trashed anyway, but I had to clarify for the sake of those mentioned.

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 12:28 a.m.

Hey Chris- I was there at that October meeting. You screamed and talked down to people at that meeting just as you do most every time you speak in public. Ask anyone at that meeting last Saturday. At that October meeting you said that the City of Oceanside SHOULD NOT take this HEAP grant money because it didn't help people the same way you do. You did not necessarily criticize other programs, you basically said that anyone else who does business other than you do, should not get any grant money and the City of Oceanside should reject that money because it would this money to those other prograsms. What business was it of yours Chris Megison? You admittedly weren't getting any of it. You just wanted to keep other programs from getting this grant money. Plus, you say that all these other programs allow housing for people who use drugs. That is a lie. Bread of Life provides temporary overnight housing and they screen for drug/alcohol use. If you use, you don't get a bed at Bread of Life. Not cool Chris Megison. You also said Solutions For Change does not get federal or state money which is also a lie because your clients who use vouchers to stay at your shelters are using federal money. Oh, and by the way, nice move with the Bread of Life landlord who immediately upped their rent by 40 per cent immediately after you contacted him...for...ummm...what was the reason? Why did Chris Megison of Solutions for Change contact that specific landlord? Hmmmmmmm. I think it would be good if that all came out. Oh, and you said Bread of Life does not do restorative work which it is about to launch next month. I'm pretty sure you knew about that. Yet you said they do not. Were you mad that I pointed out that Bread of Life has a fully volunteer staff and you pay yourself and the rest of your paid staff over a million dollars a year? Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but why did you get so upset when I mentioned it? As it turns out, people in this line of work seem to be humble, decent, sweet people, including the leading lights at Bread of Life and Brother Bennos. In this industry it seems you happen to be the lone bully. I would be the first to admit your bullying and bombast has got you far. It works for you and Solutions for Change. Every program has its own way of doing business and its own way of fundraising. But when you start tearing down other programs because they use a different m.o. than yours, that seems to be counterproductive. Oh, and do you want to talk about "rep." Let's talk about rep Chris Megison. This is what someone (who you know) wrote to me after the article came out. "Chris Megison is a conman, a liar, a charlatan, a bully and tRumpier than tRump!" Solutions For Change is helping people. That is a good thing. Why not let it go at that? Just because I exposed things you did not want exposed, I don't think it hurt the "integrity of media journalism. I am speaking only for myself.

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AlexClarke Aug. 15, 2019 @ 7:42 a.m.

Wow! Good reply. Great article. It is interesting that all these groups that are "helping" the homeless are fighting each other. Megison sounds like a big blow-hard that doesn't want anyone playing in his sandbox.

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Cmegison Aug. 15, 2019 @ 9:39 a.m.

Seriously? This reply is also incredibly unprofessional. Are you even aware of how truly biased you are as a “journalist?” Reading this was like a flash back to Junior High. I can’t believe that the Reader is this desperate for writers.

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 7:53 a.m.

I must make it clear, all the aggression is coming from Chris Megison. I have no knowledge of how Alpha does business (except its success with Mario) and absolutely, Brother Bennos and Bread of Life are the punching bags. The aggression is coming from one source. I have known Megison over 20 years and he did not used to be this way.

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 10:44 a.m.

Mr. Megison you call it "bias." I suggest that may be open to interpretation. I see Chris Megison as a treasure trove opportunity of topics. An ongoing source of fascinating material. Consider your recent facebook post where you rabidly claim that other support groups besides Solutions for Change are "socialist" and promote a "socialist agenda" just because they give homeless a place to sleep for the night. Really? Are you saying your program is superior because you immediately put people to work so they can make money for your "enterprise fund"? Hey look, Solutions for Change is successful and it is helping people get off the street. No doubt about it. And if your empire building and your cult of personality shtick works, then god bless you and your program. I just frankly think that most reasonable people don't see how your mean spirited tirades against other programs are helping anything. At some point I think your involvement in the the Bread of Life rent increase would be healthy to more fully air out (even though Bread of Life itself is not asking for such scrutiny). As you may remember, I was a big supporter of Solutions for Change 20 years ago when I organized a march in Vista in support of your fledgling program. The North County Times even did a story on the march that had like 25 people. Remember that Chris? I can show you the article in case you didn't keep it. That came about because my radio talk show Night Talk on AM 100 KCEO had you on as a regular guest, promoting Solutions for Change. Solutions For Change became a cause for Night Talk. I have tapes of those shows. Since then, helping the homeless has become an industry. Solutions' payroll is $1-million plus. And you like Brother Bennos were on the cutting edge of helping people in need. But according to someone who knew you back when: "Chris has changed." This Reader story started as a feel good piece on Mario. But just as I was writing it I discovered this whole other angle that started with me seeing you speak at that meeting last Saturday. I humbly suggest you might do well to stop throwing grenades at other programs. Then again, it does make good copy.

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digsblues Aug. 15, 2019 @ 12:05 p.m.

While the charities are fighting, does anyone know where to find how Oceanside is spending our $18 million HEAP grant dollars?

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 12:38 p.m.

chris Megison is on Facebook claiming "fake news," regarding this article. Only problem, he isn't saying what's fake. Come on Chris, stand up for yourself. Did you not contact Bread of Life's landlord? Did BoL's rent not immediately increase 40 percent? Did you not tell Oceanside not to accept HEAP money in October because it would be spent on programs you didn't believe in? Does Bread of Life not have a volunteer staff of 100? Does Solutions for Change not have a $1million annual payroll? Do you not trash other programs by calling them "socialist"? Does Bread of life not do drug tests just as you do? Where's the fake news Chris? Who is the fraud, Chris? Cat got your tongue?

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Cmegison Aug. 15, 2019 @ 4:26 p.m.

If there was ever evidence of FAKE NEWS, this is it! There is not even ONE claim that Mr, Leighton makes in the article, or this babbling ramble here, that he can legitimately source and prove. Does The Reader management know that he is making these wild baseless claims against a nonprofit? The accusation that we have harmed Bread of Life via this ludicrous theory of raising their rent is just bizarre. I just got off the phone with counsel and they said that Mr. Leighton’s allegations here, made in the capacity as a writer for The Reader, are libel unless he can prove it. They also suggested that I not engage with someone so volatile.

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SDSnugglebunny Aug. 15, 2019 @ 1:52 p.m.

I spoke with the SafeOceanside group on Saturday, immediately before Mr. Megison, offering one plan to end homelessness in Oceanside by the end of 2020. I invited Mr. Megison again to (re)join the Continuum of Care and collaborate with us to end homelessness.

The only thing that should govern our action is professionalism with a singular focus on our clients and what they want, using proven methods of success, *including what Solutions for Change has given their clients. Ideology should NEVER govern our actions.

Alex Maitre

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Cmegison Aug. 15, 2019 @ 3:44 p.m.

What should never guide our actions are those people, programs and policies that force top down one size fits all legislative mandates that tell the people of Oceanside how to help their own. As you heard our Chief of Police say on Saturday...those exact mandates are crippling our local municipalities ability to effectively address homelessness.

If your ideology statement (which btw is getting really old) is that we are standing up to those overreaching dysfunctional mandates, then you’re right. We most definitely are. Why aren’t you?

We would be thrilled to rejoin the COC. We got axed out a few years ago because our business model emphasizes personal accountability via drug free housing and required work. Send me the invitation letter from the Chair that says we are welcome back. It should include the willingness to be inclusive of other models.

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 3:57 p.m.

Mr. Megison did not chose to outline what part of the article was fake. I guess if I had have been more thorough, I would have asked why Solutions for Change paid him $137,000 last year, and his wife $103,000 and how that compares with Bread of Life where no one gets paid. Also, how about how Bread of Life DOES have a restorative program (unlike what you said) and how they also forbid drug or alcohol users like Solutions, all contradicting what you said. Oh, and how about that July 21 comment you made on Oceanside Councilman Chris Rodriguez's website where you threatened a caseworker who works for for Interfaith. I thought you said you don't fight other agencies. Hmmmmm......Maybe they don't fight you, but you attack them. I would agree, Mr. Megison, when you say this was probably the worst experience you ever had with a reporter.

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 8:46 p.m.

Mr. Megison, all I said was the Bread of Life rent increase of 40 percent followed immediately after you made contact with that landlord. This seems odd since traditionally, the Bread of Life rent increases were 3 to 5 percent. This was brought to my attention by a city of Oceanside official who thought there was a direct, unnatural connection and that it would be good for me to ask about it. I asked you before as a process of doing this story and you never really answered it. How about you do it now. Lets try it again for the record: Why did you contact the BoL landlord directly yourself when in fact the Bread of Life had a long-term rental history? And while you're at it, could you please address the threat you made July 21 to an Interfaith employee as I outlined above. There were many other questions mentioned above that I suggest would be beneficial to Solutions for Change that you answer because they seem to suggest that you have a pattern of not telling the truth. Here's a new question: would you say that you do or do not maintain an antagonistic stance with most of the other area homeless advocate agencies?

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Ken Leighton Aug. 15, 2019 @ 8:48 p.m.

What is fake about any of this Mr. Megison as you slurred in a Facebook post?

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AlexClarke Aug. 18, 2019 @ 7:41 a.m.

The notion that any group or number of groups can "end homelessness" is absurd. Most of the homeless are druggies. Those that are mentally ill are so because of drugs. Most don't want to work or get cleaned up or participate in any program. They do not want to do anything that would require them "play by the rules". The very few people who are on the streets through no fault of their own. They should be helped. The rest should be given the opportunity to become a productive member of society. Nothing should be done for the rest of the worthless human trash that litter our streets. They are there by choice or by their own actions. Unless and until someone wants help you can't force them to make the right choices. Also, the notion that these people will be OK if they are sheltered is BS. Putting a roof over a druggies head will change nothing. They will turn any dwelling into a dump.

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Ponzi Aug. 18, 2019 @ 12:33 p.m.

This story is an eye opener about homelessness. As AlexClarke knows, it's mostly drug addicts. we call them "homeless" (which is a symptom caused by behavior) because it evokes sympathy... when the reality is they are homeless because of personal choices like using drugs and becoming addicted to those drugs. If you call them what they are :drug addicts" then there is a lot less sympathy.

Shelters and food offerings are not the solutions, treatment and incarceration (when treatment is refused) is the only way to fix "homelessness."

Seattle is Dying: KOMO News

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpAi70WWBlw

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themanthemyththelegend Aug. 19, 2019 @ 8:34 a.m.

I agree with both Alex Clarke and Ponzi, these folks on the streets are almost always users and abusers. I have worked in the downtown area for over a decade, my grandparents owned a cafe on 7th and E Street in the 80's before the Salvation Army revoked their lease for homeless elderly folks. I lived in San Francisco and exclusively rode the Metro and BART; Have had folks cry out to me that were angry because I took a second to listen them - so i have something to p in so to speak with what i say next. These are symptoms of abuse and mental anguish - bottom line. I have met a few true vagabonds who did out of lifestyle choice - but that was rare. Regardless of the cause of homelessness, it is an issue, it is a symptom of a culture that places an emphasis on the now and self gratification and not on planning for the future. This behavior is reinforced by social programs - and no this isn't a liberal bash - conservatives have their own pet social projects, they just don't benefit the poor, they benefit their voters (SS anyone?). In addition, how I feel about government is not important, but they do set trends with programs and entitlements. The current trend, instituted in the 80's, was to make the American dream a reality. This was accomplished through subsidization in the housing market (fannie mae, freddie mac), student loan market, and the manipulation of the bond market by the FOMC. Prior to that it was to encourage savings and growth rates through a combination of savings rates manipulations and the encouragement of a slamming economy in the 60s and 70s that wasn't slowed by EPA etc. So there you have it. Context. Solution? Hell if i know, but giving someone agency to get high or drunk by enabling them by allowing them to forgo their basic needs does not result in self-actualization (see Maslow or any other theory from Virtually any other culture in any other time e.g. common f* sense).

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