Once a resident at the Good Neighbor Center, Juan Carlos has gone from homeless to business owner
by: Jaime Valdez Juan Carlos stands outside his Southeast Portland restaurant. Carlos spent two months living in Tigard’s Good Neighbor Center before he was able to get his life turned. Now his son, Antonio Carlos, below, works alongside him.

It wasn't long ago that Juan Carlos was moving into Tigard's Good Neighbor Center after losing his job, custody of his daughter and spending several nights living in his car.

Today, the 32-year-old Aloha resident owns his own home, has regained custody of his children and, to the delight of many, has opened his own restaurant in Southeast Portland.

JJ Delisioso Pastas on Morrison Street opened in May and Carlos says 100 percent of the credit for his success should go to the Good Neighbor Center, which provides interim shelter and services to the homeless.

'They gave me my chance to be successful,' Carlos said. 'Because of the Good Neighbor Center, I got the opportunity, and look at me now.'

His restaurant, a brightly colored Italian restaurant with classical music and a Latin flair, was Carlos' dream. When the previous owner said he was thinking of closing down, Carlos jumped at the chance.

'It's a little start, but this is all mine,' he said, noticeably proud. 'Through all the suffering and savings, it's mine. I've gotten no loans. Everything that you see is from savings and my family.'

Plans are in the works to open a bar next door.

'This is my chance to be successful'

When Carlos moved into the Good Neighbor Center in 2005, he wasn't sure what he would do.

'That first day that I walked into the Good Neighbor Center, I was crying,' Carlos said, sitting in his new restaurant. 'I didn't want to see myself there, but I wanted my daughter, and this was how I was going to get her back.'

Carlos said he was dedicated to turning his life around.

'I hugged my kids and said I was sorry. I told them that I would do something to get us out of there.'

Residents at the Good Neighbor Center can stay for up to three months. By the end of two months, Carlos had gotten a job, had his daughter back and was buying his own house.

'The day I got my daughter back the judge said, 'We need more people like you willing to fight for their children,'' Carlos said.

The restaurateur said that he would have gone back to Mexico without the Good Neighbor Center's guidance,

'They helped me find a job and learn how to save and manage my money,' Carlos said. 'They gave me everything I needed: food, clothes, a bus pass to get to work.

'It was because of them that I was able to buy my house and got my kids back,' Carlos said. 'I can manage my money now.'

Carlos said that he didn't know anything about finances when he became homeless.

'Material things were the biggest thing for me. I spent my money as soon as I had it,' he said. 'But once I knew how to live, I knew that something good would happen.'

'We empowered him'

For Sydney Webb, executive director of the Good Neighbor Center, Carlos is an amazing success story.

'When Juan Carlos came in here, he had figured out what it would take for him to get into housing, and once he had that, he just went for it,' she said.

Webb said some people who come to the Good Neighbor Center expect everything to be done for them, but Carlos did it all on his own.

'We empowered him and advocated for him,' she said. 'For some people that little bit of empowerment is all they need. It boosts them up and gets them to succeed.'

With his life back together, Carlos said that the hard times and successes are a good lesson for his children.

'I wanted to be successful and I had a chance to get a good job and show my son and my daughter that yeah, we may have struggled, but if you want something in life, you can do it.'

Carlos has plans to volunteer at the Good Neighbor Center every few months, and cook for residents as a way of saying thank you, he said.

JJ Delisioso Pastas is located at 607 S.E. Morrison St., in Portland.

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