The eyes of Mike Rivera dart from spot to spot, as if there’s a threat around every Visalia street corner.
“I have like three months sober now. ... It feels like I’m kinda new to the group,” said Rivera, slight of build and hushed in his speech.
He is in a county car with fellow Assertive Community Team member Larry Fishburn, who tries to make small talk about his favorite lunch spots. Rivera smiles and acknowledges the collegial case manager, but the eyes continue their dance.
“What’s causing me to stay sober are these groups and meetings,” he said. “Without them, I would be using most likely.”
The task for Rivera on the sunny afternoon seems like a simple one. Fishburn is taking him to pick up an “Obamaphone,” labeled such because it is free to anyone who can prove they are on public assistance like Rivera.
He gets the cellular device at a tent set up in the parking lot of a local food bank and thrift store.
But the county’s wellness and recovery director, Kent Henry, who is also along for the ride, explains simple errands like this can be fraught with dangers — easy access to methamphetamine, for instance, Henry said.
Where can the drug and those who peddle it be found?
“There. There. And there,” Henry pointed.
The dealers know that the vulnerable come to these public assistance spots to try to get their lives back together. Rivera, even before he ran the errand, said he was determined to not become their prey.
“I know I’m sober at least for the day, which makes life worth living, because back then I really didn’t care,” he said.
“I don’t want to go back to that place,” he said. “I’m in a different place now.”