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Burnside Shelter

John Dominguez’s ‘Story of Hope’ still strong, 10 years later

John Dominguez hosts karaoke weekly at the Burnside Shelter.

John Dominguez hosts karaoke weekly at the Burnside Shelter.

Ten years ago, John Dominguez was completely lost. He had just spent 20 years in a deep haze of drug and alcohol addiction, and it had slowly taken everything from him.

At age 21, and in the middle of his military service, John started losing everyone that was close to him. His mother died. His grandfather died a couple of months after his mother, and his grandmother passed away not long after that. John had lost the core of his immediate family, and rather than grieving or trying to look for help, he turned to drugs and alcohol.

“I went crazy,” John admits. “I bounced around from place to place and didn’t really have a place to live. I lived on couches. I would room in people’s garages … and then crystal meth hit town, and it was perfect for somebody like myself.

“Nothing else mattered to me except for meth, and I did it for like 12 years.”

Fast forward to 2005 and eventually, carrying nothing but a bag with the last of his possessions and a small television set, he hit rock bottom.

After burning every bridge possible, his final glimmer of hope had disappeared when his sister had to kick him out of her house because of his drug usage in the confines of her home. Alone, empty and isolated, his years of indulging his addictions nearly destroyed him.

“It’s amazing to think back to when I first came here to Portland Rescue Mission. I drop to my knees and pray when I think about how God worked on me while I was in the program, I was completely hooked on crystal meth,” John said. “I had all my paraphernalia close by. I had my pipes, my cleaning equipment, my lighters, everything … it was my Plan B after I assumed I’d fail and be kicked out of the program.”

But, what started out as nothing more than a free meal at the Burnside Shelter more than a decade ago turned into something that has defined John ever since: God is love.

“Never had I heard that before. When I walked into the Burnside Shelter that evening, I saw that love everywhere. Everyone was living that way,” John emphasized. “The fruits of the Holy Spirit were evident in everyone I talked with that night.” Clear on down to the very message John heard that night from a young preacher and his wife, who had been burned so badly, she had even lost some of her fingers.

He continued, “Regardless of what life had thrown at them, this couple was still praising God. They were still smiling and talking about God’s mercy and grace.”

It was at that moment, in the fourth row of the Burnside Shelter chapel, that John knew this might be his only chance at recovery. Despite a lifetime of baggage and deep-seeded faith struggles, he was ready to make a change, and it had to happen now.


A guest gives karaoke her best shot in the Guest Services Center.

A guest gives karaoke her best shot in the Guest Services Center at the Burnside Shelter.

Recovery proved to be one of the longest, most grueling challenges of John’s life.

Throughout the span of his 27-month journey, he found himself constantly worrying about relapsing. Bumps would come, and as John puts it, “the devil kept bringing my past back and telling me lies.” But he battled through the trying times, and now, John is 10 years clean and giving back in ways he never thought himself possible.

Not only does John host weekly karaoke down at the Burnside Shelter every Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m., he also helps head up a weekly street corner ministry on Monday nights in downtown Portland for an organization called My Brother’s Keeper. He has faithfully attended Northeast Community Fellowship since his time in the program and he regularly ventures down to The Harbor to talk with New Life Ministries newcomers.

“I’ve never gone very far from Portland Rescue Mission,” he said. “I don’t think there will ever be a time, unless I move out of state where, a couple of times a month, I won’t come in and talk with the new brothers.

“I just love telling them ‘Hey, that fear and doubt you’re feeling right now, it will pass. God will get you through … it gets better. This will be a blessing to you if you take time to work on yourself.’”

Despite his success, though, John will be the first to tell you, life after recovery isn’t always picture-perfect. Since graduating in 2007, his sister died, he lost a job, and he endured a bad breakup along with other difficult situations. But through it all, he’s never had to go back to using, and he never will again.

“God has brought me through everything,” John reiterated. “I’m always thinking about my choices and how they’re going to affect me and everyone else around me. How is it going to affect my recovery? And, most importantly, how is it going to affect my walk with God? It’s kept me grounded through a lot of different things.”

John’s life has been completely restored. The truth has set him free and he’s not afraid to share it.

“I always remember where I came from, and I use that to try and help those in similar situations. It’s never hopeless,” he said. And as part of his commitment to the men of The Harbor, he never misses a graduation.

“I want to see these guys finish and move out. I want to see them get married and live a normal life. I want to see them keep living clean so they can see their kids and grandkids.”

It’s music to his soul, and it’s proof to John, once again, that God is love and He wants to rescue everyone – just like God did for him over 10 years ago.

(To help more men like John find hope and healing in a life far removed from drugs, alcohol and other destructive addictions, consider giving a special offering online to Portland Rescue Mission. We couldn’t do what we do without you.)

Watch John talk more about his story back in 2012.