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San Diego Alpha Project Transforming Lives Of Former Felons And Addicts

KPBS Evening Edition

Taking Back The Streets

For the past 25 years, the Alpha Project has been helping homeless and formerly incarcerated people in San Diego turn their lives around, saving taxpayers money while making productive citizens out of people we often give up on.

Most of these men would probably be in prison or homeless if it were not for the Alpha Project's "Take Back the Streets" program. It has been making a difference in San Diego for more than 20 years. "It's fun, it makes you sweat, exercise, helping out the community. Look at this area -- it's all messed up, so I feel good doing something for everybody,you know," said Carlos "pee wee" Juarez.

Juarez didn't always think that way. His life used to be messed up too. Going in and out of prison following in the footsteps of his dad, grandmother and uncles. All gang members in the Skyline area. But Juarez finally broke the cycle. He's been sober and out of prison since 2000.

"Alpha Project they blessed me with a job, I was almost homeless, selling drugs and on my way back to jail," Juarez said. Take Back the Streets has been providing transitional jobs and training like brush clearing to prevent fires, graffiti removal, debris cleanup and security at various venues since 1987 in San Diego County. Juarez likes to produce rap songs and often talks to school kids about the mistakes he wishes he didn't make growing up.

"I have to be a good role model for them to look up to me and for me to talk about what I'm doing now. I have to lead by example," he said.

Each TBS crew member is paid about $10 an hour to do the work. "I've been out of prison for the last 2 years and 9 months," said Kevin Mitchell.

High school football fans may remember 38 year old Mitchell from his days at Lincoln High school. "That was the only thing that kind of kept me from the streets at times," Mitchell said.

Once a highly recruited star linebacker with letters of interest from colleges across the nation. He chose the gang life over football and has the scars to prove it. Shot four different times with nine bullet wounds, and major stomach surgery twice. Mitchell is now working security downtown at the only daycare facility for homeless people in the city.

"Alpha Project has given me a better outlook on life, and gives me an opportunity to say somebody cares, not everybody thinks the way of a criminal who can't work or a guy whose a convicted felon." Mitchell said his "light bulb" moment came on his way to prison, when he saw a guy he used to compete against, Rashaan Salaam, another San Diego native, playing for the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.

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