Home for the holidays
Oxnard’s Freedom House turns the lights up to 11
By Chris O'Neal 12/19/2013
Photo Credit Mike Batt
Hope comes in all forms at Oxnard’s Freedom House, where recovering adults tread the path toward sobriety with the assistance of a few veterans of the struggle. Around the holiday season, however, the residents turn their attention away from themselves and onto the house — as the centerpiece of Christmas Tree Lane.
Jeff Simpson never imagined himself as the manager of a halfway home. For 20 years, Simpson managed restaurants and worked in the food service industry, paving a way toward success one job at a time, until alcohol and drug abuse sent him off track.
In 1995, Simpson checked himself into an intensive treatment program at Primary Purpose, a rehab facility that used the same location as the current Freedom House. Ninety days later, after graduating from the program, Simpson began to work in the facility’s kitchen as a supervisor, eventually making his way up to house manager. When, in 1998, the house filed for bankruptcy, Simpson purchased the business and became the owner.
“I’m giving back what God gave me,” said Simpson. “A new life, bottom line.”
Simpson now operates two facilities with a maximum of 31 clients, 21 of whom call Freedom House home, temporarily.
At roughly the same time that Simpson purchased the operation, the idea to spruce up the joint in tune with the neighborhood came about. Situated on the corner of Fifth and F streets, Freedom House is at the epicenter of what’s known as Christmas Tree Lane — the most decorated neighborhood in Oxnard during the holiday season.
This year, Simpson and house manager Bob Cabler decorated the home with more than 20,000 lights, making it the brightest on the block. Using popular characters and music, Simpson and Cabler served punch and popcorn to families as they strolled by this past Sunday.
For Simpson, being the brightest house in the neighborhood is a top priority.
“If someone has 20,001, I’ll put out another light. It’s not a competition but I want the space shuttle to see my place.”
Last year, the city of Oxnard used Freedom House as the model home for Christmas Tree Lane. This year, Simpson hopes to go bigger and brighter.
Simpson’s first visit to rehab came when his son was 12 years old. Many of the residents of Freedom House have children of their own. Around the holidays, family matters are taken into serious consideration.
“They’re proud that their dad is getting their head together,” said Simpson. “The moms and the dads and the wives, some of them don’t want nothing to do with them, but some of them will support them because they want them being a father or a husband again, and that takes time.”
Decorating the home brings happiness to the families that come to visit the residents as well as the tourists.
“It’s about the kids,” said Simpson. “You see the expressions on their faces when they see Mickey Mouse and you hand out candy canes.”
Cabler, whom Simpson describes as “the backbone of the facility,” was himself a resident before he became the facilities manager.
“We get people from all walks of life,” said Cabler. “When I came here, I came straight out of the penitentiary, but I wanted what the program had to offer. It changed my life.”
Rehabilitating with others in the same situation is crucial to the success of Freedom House, according to Cabler.
“Being around others in that realm, everybody is struggling to do the same thing so they kind of lean on each other for support.”
A week’s worth of effort went into decorating the home, but for the rest of the year, Simpson and Cabler focus on supporting Freedom House’s residents.
“If someone told me 19 years ago that I was going to own a drug and alcohol program I would have said that you bumped your head,” said Simpson. “If I save one life it’s worth every second I put into this place.”