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Unique Father’s Day Story: Union Gospel Mission helps homeless father and son move from addiction to recovery and stability

Vancouver, BC—John Diablo didn’t have the best relationship with his own father. After his mom died, his father’s new love interest wasn’t keen on having kids around, so his father left 16 years old John and his three siblings on the streets of Mission to fend for themselves. Feeling the pain of his father’s rejection, John vowed that if he had a son, he would raise him well and be a father that cared.

One year later, on April 11, 1985, John Diablo got his wish when his first child, Jared, was born. It’s a day John recalls like it was yesterday. And while he has not always made the right choices, John has tried to do his best with what life dealt him—especially when it came to his son.

When Jared was young, John and his wife separated. It was a difficult time, but John and Jared soldiered on with John to foster the strong bond that existed between them.

Life in Mission grew more challenging. In 2005 John developed a herniated disk which made maintaining employment very difficult. When he was denied for disability assistance, he attempted to keep working, but the pain was unbearable. He lost his job, then his apartment; he began using drugs to cope and it wasn’t long before John and Jared were living on the streets.

“We slept on sidewalks and in tents and we learned how to eat out of garbage bins,” says John. “Many people help you out so you don’t starve, but you start to realize all the things you took for granted.”

Prior to landing on the street, the drug use John began to ease the pain morphed into addiction—something he deeply regrets exposing his son to. John had been involved in drugs at various times in his life, but he started on crystal-meth while John and Jared still had their apartment. By the time they were homeless, the drug began to take its toll on John who sometimes lost his sight, or fell unconscious at dangerous times.

Five years ago, however, everything changed. John was visiting the Union Gospel Mission drop-in when he felt sick and was taken to the hospital. The doctor checked him out and had a stern warning for John:

“'If you keep using Crystal Meth, you will be dead in six months,’ he told me,” says John.  John could only think of his son and knew he needed to live. He needed to get clean—if not for his own sake, then for his son’s. He quit cold turkey from Crystal Meth.

Union Gospel Mission staff supported John through his struggles and encouraged him in his sobriety. “With UGM’s help, and the help of other agencies and churches in Mission, I was able to get clean and sober and off the streets,” explains John.

Today, John is two years clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. He wears the scars of his decisions though—crones disease, chronic pain and high blood pressure are all results of his drug use.  Despite a regular battle with pain, that’s not the hardest impact—it’s the impact that decision had upon Jared.

Six years ago, Jared began using and dealing and in December 2009 he ended up in jail for four months. When Jared was released from prison, Union Gospel Mission staff got him into a recovery program, and now he is 17 months clean and sober.

“I’ve always been so proud of my son,” says John. “He went straight through and finished highschool. I couldn’t bear the thought of my son in jail. That’s not where he belongs, that’s not the life he should have.”

“I thank God for my son. Lots of people complain about what their kids do. I’m just glad to have a son.”

John still struggles with pain and ramifications of drug use, but he has hope and a deeper relationship with his son. He often speaks in front of vulnerable groups, telling his story, so others can learn from his mistakes. Many people have gone into recovery after hearing John’s story.

“I’m really proud of my dad,” says Jared. “After all he’s been through he doesn’t hold a grudge. And now he’s using the painful lessons he has learned to help others.”

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of
men, women, and children for over 70 years. Through its 9 locations in
Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling,
education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those
struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the
mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of
the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity
to those who feel cast aside. UGM is a proud member of the Canadian
Council of Christian Charities and the Association of Gospel Rescue
Missions. To find out more, visit


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