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San Diego’s Alpha Project Is All About Lifting People Up

Evening Edition

The Alpha Project is the non-profit agency that runs San Diego's winter homeless shelter each year. It also provides many other support services for people who are mentally ill, disabled or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

"That's what rehabilitation is -- getting off your butt and doing something positive," said CEO and President of the Alpha Project, Bob McElroy. He didn't always care about the homeless or felons until he had a revelation one day.

"God cussed at me, that's the way God talks to me. He told me to get the you know what out of his house, if you're not going to do something with it," McElroy said. So he did and the Alpha Project was born 25 years ago in San Diego.

"It's all about common sense, it's all about helping someone in need, it's all about giving the gifts and talents you have and share them with somebody else. It's all about lifting people up and not putting people down. It's all about, I'm not pointing out the speck in your eye when I got a telephone pole in mine. It's all about doing something," McElroy said.

Jason Rodriguez has heard it all before. He's a former drug addict who grew up in Vista and graduated from Casa Raphael, the Alpha Project's residential treatment center.

"I didn't make it the first time, I had some reservations, thought I could still go out there and drink and just get away with stuff," Rodriguez said. He ended up back in jail two weeks before graduating, but eventually went back and now manages the treatment center.

"We're taking it back to basics teaching guys who have been homeless or in prison, jail. We're teaching them the basic responsibilities of life and a lot of guys forget that or have never learned.

McElroy said the main difference between this state licensed treatment program and others is 86 percent of his counselors are former drug addicts or felons.

"If you can run a dope enterprise and you can cook dope and you have distributing skills and money management skills, then we just need to get that stinking thinking taken care of to do something constructive." McElroy says the rehab program is also saving taxpayers money.

"We've proven over the years, given an opportunity to change. Thousands of men and women have become productive citizens. They're taxpayers now and saving taxpayers $80,000 a year, $60,000 to keep them incarcerated, another $10 or $15,000 for the court system. It's a no-brainer." McElroy said 80 percent of the people who graduate from the 9- to 12-month program have stayed clean and sober for more than three years.

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