Chris Dikes is a Contra Costa College graduate, a chef and the acting director of a college-accredited culinary arts program. Thirteen years ago, he was a homeless drug addict who, at 37, faced his third strike after being convicted of methamphetamine production.

That tells you all you need to know about the transformative powers of the Bay Area Rescue Mission in Richmond.

The spiritual-based nonprofit organization -- funded entirely by individual and corporate donations -- traces its roots to 1965 and a 12-bed homeless shelter for men in a Richmond hotel. Forty-eight years later, it manages separate facilities for men and women, with 325 beds, and a four-phase rehabilitation program for anyone willing to put in the effort and the 12 months required for graduation.

"We begin them on First Step, which is a two-month program where we stabilize them and get them into the mission culture," said Men's Services Director Dan Helix. "It's very spiritual. It's Christ-centered. We get no government dollars."

The program's succeeding phases -- New Life, Overcoming and Victory -- lay out a spiritual and scriptural path to recovery, anger management, understanding codependence and forgiveness. Classwork is the preparation for practical application.

"We make them use what they've learned," Helix said. "We're in a communal living situation. This guy made you mad. That guy did you wrong. How are you going to apply what you've learned?"

There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are faces on the street, Programs Vice President Tim Hammack said.


Advertisement

"A lot of folks come with significant trauma," he said. "It might be domestic violence; maybe they lost a job or a loved one died and they had a mental breakdown. There's a lot of mental illness. Substance abuse is what we deal with most, but not everyone."

This is not a lockdown program, and many participants leave. Some aren't ready to change their lifestyle, Helix said. To achieve success, a participant must be willing to accept the underlying reasons for dysfunction.

"Many of the men in our program have significant father wounds," he said. "Some of them were molested by their fathers, others had emotional wounds. That led them to make bad choices so they didn't feel the pain; it set up an undercurrent of anger. Managing that comes from understanding the source of the anger."

Program participants must contribute to the upkeep of the mission -- that includes maintenance, warehouse, kitchen and landscaping work -- which doubles as job training. That brings us back to Dikes, who oversees the preparation of 1,000 meals a day and manages the mission's culinary arts program in conjunction with Contra Costa College.

When he entered the program at the forceful urging of Superior Court Judge Joyce Crane as a last-ditch alternative to a prison sentence, he had hair to his waist and a hairier attitude. ("He was a rough character," Hammack said.) As the three-month intervals passed between each of his court-mandated appearances before the judge, he began to wear his hair shorter and shorter, and his attitude disappeared.

"I worked my way up from program member to apprentice to cook to assistant manager to where I am now," Dikes said. "The judge said I was her first success story. She came to my graduation and watched me walk across stage."

There are a lot of stories like that at the Bay Area Rescue Mission.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.