On September 21, 2016, sixty-five year old Richard Howington moved into a one-bedroom apartment on West East Avenue. Six months earlier to the day he was admitted to Torres Shelter for a second time feeling that he was lost in his life: “When I first was here my future looked like a television screen that was just a blank, and it was hissing. I wanted to turn on a station, but I could not see anything about a future.”
Richard speaks fondly about his parents and his life in Whittier, a small town in Southern California where he, his parents and younger sister moved in 1959 from Imperial Valley. He graduated from its high school in 1969, and soon after he fell in love. The young couple waited five years to marry. She was too young. Meanwhile, he worked for a trucking company typing freight bills on an electric typewriter eight hours a day at $10 an hour. He saved enough money, and a year after he married he became a fulltime student at Biola College, a private evangelical Christian School. When his first child arrived, Richard returned to freight billing for another year. It took him five years to graduate with a major in Biblical Studies and Koine Greek as well as minors in German and Philosophy. (All the while he dreamt of pursuing a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages.) Soon after graduation a second child was born. Richard took up a writing career — first for a newspaper, and then for a printing company writing copy for their advertising layouts.
During his eighteen-year marriage his life slowly changed. Richard discovered one day that a glass of wine made him more relaxed for a work appointment. The meeting was terrific. He did not see the dangers in drinking alcohol since his parents rarely drank. Slowly he became alcohol dependent. He and his family suffered the consequences, and a divorce in 1991 brought a deeply unhappy Richard to Chico where his parents and sister had settled years earlier. He worked various jobs including writing a column for the Enterprise Record. Alcohol continued to be a part of his life.
His father died in 1992 and nine years later Richard went to China for three years to teach English. When he returned, he lived with his mother at the apartment complex that she managed. She was in her 80s and the work was difficult. Richard became her assistant until his mother died in 2011 leaving him alone and without a job. Richard sold all he could and this provided him only two months rent. His car became his home for the next three months before he finally approached Torres Shelter. After a couple of months into his stay, he could not resist a beer and broke the no alcohol rule.
The Well Ministry of Rescue takes in men with substance abuse, and they opened their doors to Richard. He was expected to attend Bible study and church every Sunday. Meals were shared and daily chores assigned. Richard is grateful to The Well because it gave him accountability. A year later he graduated and continued to stay at the Well for another year with the assistance of Social Security retirement benefits. From The Well he moved to Lincoln, near Roseville, where he lived with a
friend in a two-bedroom house. He was happy that he could walk to the Walmart for groceries as well as to Heritage Bible Church. This arrangement lasted eight months and it was soon thereafter that he found himself at the Torres Shelter in that dazed state with a hissing, blank TV in his head. Here, he met Melanie, his service coordinator at the Shelter.
“She is not only smart, but she is friendly, helpful and empathetic . . . a Godsend.” It did not take Richard long to trust and listen to her. Strongly motivated to get his own place as soon as possible he began saving money as encouraged by the Shelter and re-enforced by Melanie. Liz and Amanda in the housing department at Butte County Behavioral Health assisted him in looking for places to live. They recommended that he wait for a grant for which they thought he was eligible since it would pay the deposit and 70% of his rent for two years. Richard discussed the matter with Melanie and she advised him to listen to Liz and Amanda. Melanie knew that a number of those who go to one-room housing, as he was first inclined to do, come back to the shelter. He took her advice and now lives in a one-bedroom apartment that is within easy reach of the B-Line to which he pays $19 a month for unlimited use. Surprisingly he is grateful that his car was stolen because he saves money and walking is keeping him healthy. Moreover he is close to Grace Brethren Church where he feels at home.
Richard is optimistic about changing his life around. Torres Shelter has given him the stability he needs to see possibilities. He says that he might not yet be able to hear the TV in his mind, but he can picture a better life. He has learned through his struggles to control his alcoholism. He believes AA’s advice: “Keep coming back. It works, if you work it.”