By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — For seven years, Troy Vaughn’s home was in a cardboard box on Los Angeles’ Skid Row.
“I lived in and out of the streets, sleeping in cardboard boxes periodically,” Vaughn said. “I was in and out of shelters, cars, and missions — anywhere just to find a place to sleep.”
Then Vaughn, a former Marine, received the worst news of his life.
“My father passed away from a drug overdose and my life shattered into pieces,” he said. “I started using controlled substances and later cocaine to cope with the emotional trauma. My father’s addiction soon became mine as well. “And my life continued to spin out of control until I hit rock bottom,” Vaughn added. “I found myself living on Skid Row and had no hope.”
Broken and filled with despair, Vaughn uttered a prayer one night that would forever change his life.
“I prayed to God that I would serve him for the rest of my life if he would deliver me from the streets. It was just that simple,” he said.
God answered his prayer. “He told me to leave my cardboard box and seek help,” Vaughn said. “I crawled out of that cardboard box in December 1992. I knocked on the doors of the Union Rescue Mission and went through an intense, year-long rehabilitation program to rebuild my life.
“It gave me the tools for long-term sobriety that truly saved my life,” Vaughn added. “Since the day I left that program, I vowed to do everything I could to help others living on Skid Row who were experiencing the same ills that I had overcome.”
Nearly 30 years later, Vaughn is still helping the people on Skid Row. Since September 2020, he has been the president and chief executive office of the Los Angeles Mission, one of several missions serving the Skid Row population.
He is the first African American to lead the Los Angeles Mission in its 81-year history. Vaughn said he was overwhelmed to be selected to lead the mission.
“I had a lot of different emotions,” he said. “I felt overjoyed. I was dependent on God and I totally surrendered to him. I just had to understand that the position was bigger than me. God made room for me in this position and I find confidence in prayer in keeping my eyes on the Lord.”
His transformation from mission resident to mission president started through education.
Vaughn received a bachelor’s degree in advanced legal studies and an MBA from Kaplan University. He earned an executive juris doctorate degree from Concord Law School and a master’s degree in divinity and theology and a doctorate in theology from the Master’s School of Divinity.
He also holds a graduate certification in executive nonprofit management from Cal State Los Angeles and fundraising and marketing from Cal State Long Beach.
He and his wife Darlene founded Christ Centered Ministries in Inglewood in 1993 with a goal to see men and women delivered from the chains of addiction. The ministry began working with the missions of Skid Row in an effort to build bridges for men and women trying to transition out of their recovery treatment programs. The nonprofit organization also is dedicated to creating housing and employment opportunities for the disenfranchised.
He also is the executive director and co-founder of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, a network of public, community and faith-based agencies and advocates working together to advance positive change for millions of formerly incarcerated and convicted Angelenos.
Since its inception, the partnership has worked to build public will for greater equity in the criminal justice system and helps to increase funding for housing, health and social services for formerly incarcerated people and those who serve them.
Having spent years consulting with organizations about the problems on Skid Row, his knowledge and experience attracted the attention of the Los Angeles Mission and he was asked to join the board of directors.
That led to his appointment as president and CEO.
Since assuming the position, Vaughn has rolled up his sleeves and worked to offer the residents an array of programs, including employment, skill development, family reunification and housing for men and women. And the mission feeds the hungry every day, providing half a million meals a year.
Remembering his own experiences on Skid Row’s gritty streets, Vaughn constantly offers hope, encouragement and understanding to the residents of Skid Row while remaining determined to improve the landscape.
“Our doors are always open and we are always looking for partnerships and volunteers,” he said.
Last August, Vaughn was appointed to the Board of the Prison Industry Authority by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“Everything starts with seeing people and meeting them where they are at — a smile, a meal, a loving guide,” Vaughn said. “Meeting people where they are at is essential for helping people who have hit rock bottom. For me it always starts with that, seeing people and meeting them where they are at.”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.