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Elk Grove Citizen

'The Party was Over'

Dec 02, 2022 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Shaun Holkko, assistant editor

Guest speakers, Shawna Barnes and Jesse Yniguez (center), pose for a photo with the Tri-County Lunch Bunch after the meeting on Thursday, December 1 at Pancake Palace in North Highlands.

The Party was Over [4 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

Getting a Second Chance at Life

NORTH HIGHLANDS, CA (MPG) – The Tri-County Lunch Bunch came together on December 1 in North Highlands for their monthly meeting at the Pancake Palace, which takes place the first Thursday of every month.

The group, which includes locals from Rio Linda, Elverta, North Highlands and beyond, is always welcoming new members. Thursday’s two guest speakers attended the monthly gathering for the first time and were invited by regular attendee, Chris Evans.

The two speakers were Jesse Yniguez and Shawna Barnes, who each are recovered from previously using drugs and alcohol.

“I became homeless in 2017 due to drugs and alcohol,” Yniguez told the Lunch Bunch. “For the first year, I pretty much just survived, I got into survival mode. I did not want to do anything but survive. The second year, I came across Downtown Streets Team.”

Yniguez joined the Downtown Streets Team Sacramento shortly after it launched in 2018. The team provided him with an opportunity to join the workforce and restore how he viewed himself as a person.

“They started giving me certain tasks and certain things to build up my self-esteem. I didn’t have any more self-esteem left and my confidence, my confidence was gone, everything was just totally gone,” Yniguez recalled.

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After three years of working for the streets team, Yniguez decided it was time to work on himself. He spent nine months attending alcohol DUI classes so he could get his driver’s license back, which he successfully did last month in November 2022. Yniguez also got a warrant from 2010 lifted off his license as well.

He now works with Evans at The River District. The other featured speaker, Barnes, also works with Evans.

“I was pretty messed up on drugs, I was homeless for five years,” Barnes said. “I lost my family, my kids, I didn’t have anything left. I wanted something different, so I started working [on] the Downtown Streets Team and it just changed everything around [me]. I got off drugs, I got my family back, I got my kid back, I got my license, I got a new car!

“They got me this job and this job is amazing, its changed my life. I know I can do it now. I didn’t have any hope left and today I do. Today I know anything is possible. I know anybody can do it because I did it and I didn’t think it was possible.”

Evans works with the Downtown Streets Team Sacramento, The River District and the Sacramento Navigators, with a goal of rehabilitating individuals who are homeless due to substance abuse struggles.

“Every month I know you hear me say the same thing,” Evans said. “We do not have a homeless problem in California, we have a drug problem. Just because we have a drug problem doesn’t mean we need to give up hope. There’s people out there who will fight to come back.”

Yniguez and Barnes said they each, respectively, found out about the street team program while going to get a meal from Loaves & Fishes.

“I had made a mess of the streets and I was like, ‘I would love to do that!’ I mean, what was I doing? I had nothing better to do,” Barnes proclaimed Thursday. “It got me some clean socks, underwear and just stuff that I really needed. You have to go down and get on the list and every week you have to be there so they can see your serious, then they let you on the team and it’s amazing.”

The street team program provides $100 stipends each week that can be spent at the Dollar Tree, McDonald’s and Ross Dress for Less in exchange for someone picking up trash off the streets.

“Once I started getting in that rhythm of joining up each day and [was] somewhere that I belonged, it [became] like family,” Yniguez said. “I met Shawna through Downtown Streets Team. We’ve known each other since then and we’ve become like family. I went to her house for Thanksgiving this year, that’s how close we’ve become.

“This is like one of the neatest programs ever, I’ll tell you that. They really make you feel like family.”

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Evans said the street team currently has two separate divisions: street cleaning and landscaping. In early 2023, the nonprofit will be adding two more with a bakery and entrepreneurship program. The plan is for team members to bake banana bread and sell it at swap meets according to Evans.

One member of the group, who admitted to being a recovered alcoholic himself, asked the two speakers how they are able to sustain their sobriety. The gentleman mentioned that even as someone in recovery, he feels you still always have that part of you that was addicted to a substance within yourself.

“I don’t anymore to tell you the truth,” Yniguez responded. “There just came a time I knew the party was over. My choice of drug was meth. I didn’t think I had a problem. But then when I realized that I did have a problem, and then I realized that I had just been wanting to become successful again, that that was not going to be in the cards when I was doing that.”

Yniguez shared that at the age of 32 he bought his own diesel truck that he had been saving to get for five years. Despite the truck “meaning the world” to Yniguez, his addiction to alcohol led him into downfall spiral before he even did drugs. He said that he began coming into work late and letting his addiction seep into his everyday life.

“When I got my diesel truck, I felt that was the top of the success line that I was going to get,” Yniguez explained. “I felt great. I made my grandparents happy, I made my mother and father ecstatic and I had it all [for] about two and a half years. When it came to an end and I had to sell it, I went into a deep depression. Therefore, now that I’m becoming successful again, I don’t ever want to feel that feeling again. Now I’m just going to the top and that’s all I want to do. I know what to do once I get there.

“I had cravings many years ago, maybe three or four years ago, but I don’t anymore, that’s out of the cards. That’s not even a thing to me. I can be around it and I wouldn’t touch it. I have too much to lose right now.”

Barnes said she’s been able to maintain her sobriety through religion.

“How I stayed sober is I found God,” she said. “God saved my life. I was out there, I had nothing left and I told God, ‘If you’re real, please help me,’ and he did, he changed my life around. I go to church two-three times a week and I just love it. God really saved me.”

The next meeting of the Tri-County Lunch Bunch will be on January 5 at Pancake Palace from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and anyone is welcome to attend.