Changing lives, odds be damned, Part I of III: a case study

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

Part I of III: a case study

Things had never been easy for Joshua Duncan.

It was 2018, and the Kingman, Arizona boy was, once again, having trouble at home. He’d already tried weed in an effort to both fit in with his friends and numb his pain and anger. One day he took it further and smoked some methamphetamine.

That first hit of meth set in motion a four-year slide that only recently — with the help of family and a pair of extremely dedicated City of Montclair Homeless Outreach and Enforcement Team officers — seems to have abated.

Duncan’s meth usage started small, with a hit or two here and there. But the extremely addictive stimulant soon took hold, and his reliance escalated. Before long he left home, trying to outrun the acrimony and chaos there and falling deeper into addiction.

He was 14.

The next four years were a pastiche of couch surfing, crash houses, run-ins with the police and, occasionally, living outside.

At first he didn’t feel as if he’d joined the ranks of the unhoused. But the stretches of living outside became more frequent. And, as his meth usage escalated, he found he cared less and less about where he crashed. It was all about getting hold of enough meth to dull the pain.

Years passed. His family, once fed up and angry, was now just worried. By July, 2022 Duncan was in Victorville, California in a court-ordered rehabilitation facility. But he wasn’t ready to kick meth, and after just three days, was asked to leave the facility.

At that point he was intent on returning home to try and get his life together. He boarded a Greyhound Bus in Victorville, intending to head northeast to his family in Kingman, Arizona. But in his mentally and physically fatigued state, he got on the wrong bus, headed west. By the time he realized his mistake and pulled the cord for the bus to stop, he was in Montclair.

It was an extremely lucky accident.

Duncan was 18 by then. Strung out on meth, wracked with shame and guilt, he’d burned so many bridges he didn’t think he had a lifeline to use to get back home. It was hot too, and after scoring some meth, he found a shady spot to crash under a bridge.

Hungry, dirty, and overheated, he later he made his way to a local homeless shelter. The folks there recognized he needed medical attention, and he was transported by ambulance to Montclair Hospital Medical Center. There he asked to talk to the police, hoping to get some help with getting hold of his family in Kingman.

It was at that moment Duncan’s luck shifted.

Three months ago, Joshua Duncan, pictured here on October 18, was at the tail end of a four-year addiction to methamphetamine and living under a Montclair bridge. After help from his family and Montclair Homeless Outreach officers Gabe Fondario and Robert Hargett, he’s turned his life around. Photo/courtesy Joshua Duncan

The Montclair Police Department routed Duncan’s call to its Homeless Outreach Services Team of Gabe Fondario and Robert Hargett.

“They came along and picked me up,” Duncan told the COURIER this week. “They asked me a couple questions. They ended up getting me a hotel and got me some pizza. They did a lot of things for me.”

The next morning Fondario and Hargett took him to breakfast. Later they were able to reach his grandparents in Kingman, who said they would take him in. Unable to find transportation for the impromptu reunion, the pair drove Duncan to Needles, California, where they met his uncle, Danny Duncan, who drove him the rest of the way into Kingman.

On a blistering day in July, Montclair Homeless Outreach officers Gabe Fondario and Robert Hargett (right) drove 18-year-old Joshua Duncan to a rendezvous in Needles, California with his uncle, Danny Duncan (center) as part of their efforts to help him kick a four-year methamphetamine addiction and get off the streets. Photo/courtesy Gabe Fondario

“Personally, in their own vehicle and everything, they helped me get back out here on to my feet,” Duncan said.

It was jarring to have two strangers show him so much compassion.

“Well, nobody else would, and it just felt like I had somebody watching my back,” Duncan said. “I was asking other people for help and nobody would help me. And there were just those two people that were willing to take time out of their hearts and help me. It was a really good feeling.

“It made me want to change.”

Duncan has been clean for three months now. He has a job installing tires at a local chain store, and he’s working toward taking his high school equivalency exam.

“It put me through a little scare that I ain’t never going to do that again,” he said. “Drugs, period, and being homeless, it’s not really that fun. Once you’re homeless and you’ve got nobody to go to, what do you do? But then you reach out to people like Gabe and his partner, and they can switch it all around.”

Next week in “Part II of III: the genesis of a success story,” we will learn how the City of Montclair, with the help of Fondario, Hargett and a host of collaborators, changed its approach to both the unhoused and improving living conditions in neighborhoods once so crime-ridden they were dubbed “the warzone.”

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