Julio Gastelum poses for a photo with his family in his new apartment.

A second chance at a home with his family

Addiction landed Julio Gastelum on the streets in summer heat. After getting clean, SVdP helped him regain housing and a shot at family life again

From the highs of fulfilling family life to the treacherous depths of addiction, homelessness, and back, Julio Gastelum’s story of losing and winning back his life is one to inspire any cynic — and St. Vincent de Paul is proud to have been a part of returning him to stability and happiness.

Julio had everything he could have hoped for: A stable job, a loving wife, beautiful children, and a home to hold them all together. 

But it all came into jeopardy because of one thing: He developed an addiction to meth.  

Julio remembers the turning point when his addiction fully set in.

“I remember me giving my kids a bath, and there was a knock on the door. There was my cousin, he had the meth, and I told my wife to take over, and I walked away from my responsibilities of being a father,” he said.  

“I abandoned that role of being a good father, and that's the worst mistake I've ever made in my life. To this day, it hurts because it took me away from my kids and sent me to a whole dark world.

“I had such a beautiful life with them. And I destroyed that.”

Julio sits in the living room of his new apartment with his wife and one of his children.

Julio came to realize the dark road he was heading down and felt the need to spare his family. He left home to try and enter a rehabilitation center, but things quickly fell apart, and he ended up on the street for the next two years.  

Like many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness, Julio had to endure the dangerous terrain of the streets, not the least of which is surviving Phoenix’s brutal summers.  

During the summer, his main goal was to just stay in the shade and close to water. That was the only way to survive. The oppressive heat made it difficult to find the motivation to do anything else. Sometimes he might jump on a bus just to feel the A/C.  

He went days at a time without eating because he lacked the money to get food. Life was so difficult and uncomfortable he doesn’t ever remember sleeping during the summers.

“Your mind is eating you,” he said. “You just need to put some water in your body [to keep going].”  

But this was not the type of life Julio wanted for himself or his family.

“I decided to not live like that. I didn't want to live like that anymore,” he said. 

He asked himself, “What type of father are you? I know that that's not the type of father I wanted to give my children.”  

Julio took his condition seriously and entered a halfway house, where he worked to become sober and bring stability back to his life. After many long months, he succeeded and is sober to this day, but he still had one big problem: He was still without a home. 

He took his situation into his own hands and sought out help, quickly learning about St. Vincent de Paul. He walked in to ask for help, and that’s when he met Sister Jessica, one of the volunteer social workers in SVdP’s Social Work Services program.  

Julio looks up at a cross in his new home.

“It’s like walking into God’s office,” he said of the experience.

One of the hardest parts of the rehousing process is simply navigating it, and for someone who has no experience in it, it can seem like a maze of phone calls and applications with no end. That’s why it was so meaningful when Sister Jessica Ramirez sat down with Julio and became his case manager.  

She walked Julio through the process, and with her help he was able to not just get approved for an apartment but fill the apartment with essentials thanks to SVdP’s Home Furnishings Program, which provides furniture and more through one of SVdP’s local thrift stores. This helps whoever is moving into their new apartment with their fresh start and keeps them from being forced to spend their first several paychecks on bare necessities like a bed or dinner table.

After getting the keys to his new home, Julio was ready to reconcile with his family. Quickly after moving in, his kids came over to help build the furniture in their new room.

Julio's two oldest children hang out in their bedroom.
Julio's two oldest children hang out in their bedroom, next to the bunk bed they helped build with their father.

“My kids loved it,” Julio said. “We put the bed together. My boy was reading the instructions to me. He was awesome.”

Right after finishing the bunk bed for the kids’ room, Julio’s son and daughter even started to argue over who got the top bunk.

Julio was also able to reconcile with his wife, and now his whole family is back together under the same roof.  

“SVdP helped me. They gave me that power to succeed in achieving that goal for my family. Like my daughter's like so thankful. I tell them like this is the home that God got us.”

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