SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- She lost her job, car, home, and children.
Drug addicted and living on the streets with her husband the prospects appeared hopeless.
“I love serving the people that are just like me, that I once was," said Crystal Hernandez as she began to tell the story of how she once ended up living on the street. “My addiction took me there. Said Crystal, “I was addicted off and on since I was 14-years old.”
Crystal says it started as nothing more than peer pressure among kids. But soon, barely a freshman in high school, no pressure was needed. She was addicted.
“So, my whole freshman year I'm doing drugs before school, during school. And shortly thereafter I ended up getting pregnant when I was like, 17," Crystal said.
Crystal says her pregnancy inspired sobriety. She was able to get clean for some three years. But after her second child, she relapsed.
“I had the drugs in my hand,” she said. “And I'm sitting there crying and looking in the mirror and still doing it. So, it's hard to explain how it makes you feel," Crystal said.
But the price to get high was everything.
“I was living out of my car with my kids and, you know, couch surfing and staying with friends here and there and family that would allow us to stay. But when you're using drugs, nobody wants you to stay at their house.”
Eventually, Crystal’s children were ordered into foster care, and she and her husband would live for six months under a tree in vista. They created a makeshift encampment that included cardboard laid down on the ground with a mattress on top.
“We were just roaming,” said Crystal. “We didn't have any sense of direction, what we were going to do. If, in fact, we were going to stop drugs or not.”
Then, Crystal's brother died from an overdose.
“I didn't want to be next. I didn't want to die,” Crystal recalled. “Sometimes I feel like his death helped me live.”
Realizing they needed help, Crystal and her husband applied to several social service agencies. A call came from the San Diego Rescue Mission.
Crystal admits, doing drugs the night before the Mission took her in so her first day there was her first clean day. And she says she and her husband stayed clean. The Rescue Mission provided a positive form of peer pressure; inspiring a better way and helping her to realize her value.
“I said, you know, I'm worth it. My kids deserve a better mom. And that was my focus, was to get better and do better," Crystal said.
Fast forward five years and Crystal and her family are whole once again and thriving. Crystal was eventually hired by the Rescue Mission where she now reaches out to donors and those in need.
“I just try to be really encouraging to them and let them know that there's a better life,” Crystal said.
And as for her own life, she confirms it’s filled with a lot more smiles and laughter these days.
“My Mom says she can hear me from a mile away," she said.
Crystal is also now attending college to become certified as a counselor and mental health worker. Her husband graduated from Cuyamaca College in June and just took the state exam for safety professionals.