Ventura County Homeless Advocate Seeks Redemption

Courtesy Mark M. Alvarado

I met Lang Martinez in April of 2019. I was employed by the City of Oxnard as a Homeless Services Coordinator. At that time, Martinez was introducing himself during the public comment period at the Oxnard City Council meetings. He was fresh from a drug recovery program. After years of being homeless and addicted to drugs, he was facing another turn at sobriety. It was clear that his comments during the City Council meetings were set up to challenge the City’s efforts for addressing homelessness.
After I resigned from my position in 2019, Martinez and I stayed in contact. Over the last three years I’ve learned more about Lang’s personal journey. He suffers from sexual abuse that was inflicted upon him as a child. Factor in years of smoking crystal meth and cocaine. I now have a better understanding of why he became homeless and a convicted criminal. I also have deeper knowledge of the complexities behind homelessness. Today, the amount of trauma and mental health problems inside chronic homelessness is irreversible in its totality. But on a case-by-case basis with personal determination and the appropriate support, a person can recover.

Lang Martinez has a compelling story to tell. It carries all the elements of a broken life with a ray of light for salvation. Yet, it is a story that yearns for redemption. It also explains and contributes to the why and how of the decisions he makes when advocating for the homeless in Ventura County.

Lang prides himself on being a resident homeless advocate. But with little formal education, Lang can be a bull in a china shop. He can be impulsive, abrasive and vexed.
But these negative traits are often a reflection of the trauma he has endured on the streets and from being in prison. Lang has built an unreasonable reputation. Is it only because he does not accept no for an answer when seeking resources for the homeless? He can often lock horns when people disagree with him. That reputation follows him wherever he goes. To say Lang Martinez is a little rough around the edges is an understatement. But to say he’s compassionate, determined and witty would be just as accurate.

Today, he lives to free himself from the living hell that once coated his life. Understanding Lang is a work in progress. It can be an unnerving experience for anyone on the opposite end of his advocacy. But this is what we get with a survivor like Lang. His social well- being was destroyed as a minor and what’s left of him is trying to recover. He continues to work with a therapist to help him manage his attitude and decision making and he visits with his pastor regularly for spiritual guidance.

Now after finding sobriety for the third time and in an odd and unorthodox manner, Lang Martinez has become an unofficial public figure in Ventura County. His knack for staying involved and showing up, welcomed or not to homeless related activities has been a bit of a show. His activism has exhausted his relationship with some homeless officials. But surely, he has grabbed their attention due to his persistent attitude.

Publicly, he’s been able to publish aspects of his life on the Ventura County based Citizens Journal website. He participated in an Oxnard citywide homeless summit in 2018 and soon after appeared in a homeless documentary produced by students at Cal State Channel Islands. He’s also been interviewed twice on Stop Child Abuse Now Internet Radio, produced by the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. Unfortunately, when he was arrested last year, KTLA News published an outdated mugshot of Lang with a report of all the charges he was facing. It’s safe to say a lot of people know about Lang.

I caught up with Lang after KTLA published his arrest. An ex-girlfriend pressed charges against him in December of 2021 for suspicion of felony domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, criminal threats, burglary, and possession of a firearm. On May 4, 2022 the charges were dropped by Judge Rocky Baio in Ventura County Superior Court. Due to his prior criminal record, Martinez was looking at a sentence that would have probably sent him to prison for the rest of his life.The charges were dismissed pursuant to penal code 1385, which allows a judge to dismiss a case “in furtherance of justice.” This outcome is the backdrop that drapes Lang’s recovery and survival for full vindication. The charges could have sunk his sobriety, but his personal conviction won out. He remained sober throughout the entire ordeal. This alone was a victory for Lang.

Days before the case was dropped, Martinez was buying cigarettes for a friend at a Ventura strip mall. As he sat in his car, he closely watched a homeless man dig through a trash can. Martinez could not help but think about the charges against him and his former life as a homeless person strung out on crystal meth. He lived like a pariah, rejected, and wounded to the core.

I asked Lang how he felt after seeing the homeless man digging through the trash can. He became quiet and his breathing became more rapid. It is apparent that he is triggered by his own trauma and experiences. He has lost 37 years of his life due to crime, drug addiction and homelessness.

“I’m him. I’m also his advocate because I can identify with his life. Society is no better than him and we have no right to judge him and I often feel like nobody knows but me.”

Lang’s recovery began eight months before he started speaking at the Oxnard City Council meetings. In the summer of 2017 and in critical condition, he was found in a parking lot in downtown Oxnard by the Oxnard Police Department. He was suffering from exposure, chronic drug abuse and close to death. He was eventually transported to Ventura County Medical Center where his life was saved.

“I used to come to work every morning and see Lang behind my office passed out and foaming at the mouth,” says former downtown Oxnard merchant Ron Freeman. “I seriously thought I would come to work one day and find him dead.”

Martinez speaks with a rough gravel in his throat, he often wonders aloud how his life had shifted and was turned upside down at the age of 17. His parents were still in their teens when he was born. His mother, Anglo, and his father, Chicano, divorced. His mother remarried but Lang did not have a great relationship with his stepfather. It was in 1980, a junior at Westchester High School in West LA, when Martinez entered the world of cocaine trafficking. He was selling cocaine for an employer and it came with a ticket straight into the dark side of Hollywood. Lang says his mother went above and beyond to try and rescue him from the LA drug scene. Unfortunately, she could not save her son. Now 58 years old, the once teenage BMX racer living just miles from the beach, ended up a strung- out street person. He traces his downfall to when he met his drug induced predator, who Martinez says sexually assaulted him as a minor.

According to Martinez, he sold directly to Hollywood stars, nightclubs and specifically at the popular underage dance club, The Odyssey.

“The Odyssey in Hollywood was all about drugs, hustling, sex and violence and it was promoted well,” says Eric Hamm.

Hamm is a 55-year-old survivor of the teenage scene in Hollywood, a former punk rocker who now drives for Uber and cares for his elderly mother in Ventura County.

“I know half a dozen kids who died from being a part of that scene, some just disappeared,” says Hamm.

In the 1980’s, the infamous Odyssey, which burned down in 1985, was considered ground zero for underage drug use and sexual predators. Dr. Lois Lee is the world’s leading expert in rescuing child sex trafficking victims. She is the founder of the LA nonprofit Children of the Night. Since 1979, her organization has saved thousands of teenage lives from prostitution. She says teens were victims of prey at the hands of adult pedophiles. She knows adults had unabated access to underage clubs like the Odyssey. She was in the thick of it, working tirelessly on the streets of Hollywood saving as many children as she could.

“Lang is a survivor. Many of the kids from that period are either dead, had contracted HIV or are in prison,” says Dr. Lee.

According to Dr. Katherine Emerick, a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Ventura County, there is a reasonable basis to believe that Martinez was subjected to childhood sexual abuse when he was in his late teens. After meeting and interviewing Martinez, Dr. Emerick concluded in a written certificate of merit, that Martinez’ memory of being sexually assaulted was discovered after intensive regression therapy in 2020.

Martinez says once he turned 18, he was no longer needed as a drug runner and that is when the sexual abuse stopped. However, the madness in his life only intensified.

“In therapy is when I realized what had happened to me, I finally understood what my pain was all about and why I had suffered through multiple drug relapses and incarceration. My pain left me frozen. I have now received the help of professionals and I have a responsibility to help others. I have a story to tell. I am a courageous survivor because I did not let the monsters kill me,” says Martinez.

Now after 41 years of living a broken life. He’s often stuck thinking about his drug abuse, a failed marriage, incarceration and homelessness. Martinez is now in full recovery. He has been sober and off the streets for four years this July. He is committed to his recovery and wants his story to be known. He believes there are more victims like him who have lived in fear, shame and silence.

“I must show society that today I have taken responsibility for my life. I made a promise to God that I can forgive myself for the damage I have caused and live a life to help others who suffer from homelessness, drug addiction and other traumatic experiences,” says Martinez.

At the height of his addiction to crystal meth, Martinez caused a major shutdown of a Crescenta Valley neighborhood in January of 2011. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, he got into a car chase with the California Highway Patrol after stealing power tools from an Orchard Hardware store. As he got away, he caused a car accident and fled on foot into a residential area. This forced law enforcement to shut down a major intersection for three hours. Officers on foot and by helicopter searched for him. He was able to escape after stealing a bike. Two weeks later he was caught and charged for stealing electronics from a Target store in Burbank and was also charged with robbery of the Orchard Hardware store and evading officers in Crescenta Valley.

He atoned for the havoc he caused the community of Crescenta Valley 11 years ago. In 2021, he reached out to the Crescenta Valley News, who also covered the story. They published an apology from Martinez to the people of that community.

“I’m sorry,” he stated. “I’m so sorry when I learned I had hit an elderly couple.” Martinez told the Crescenta Valley News that he did not realize what had happened during both incidents.

Combining through the memory of the havoc he caused in Crescenta Valley with the recent felony domestic violence charges filed against him, Martinez looks at his life with this understanding.

“Looking at the seriousness of the crimes I’ve committed when I was on drugs and the recent false charges against me, I am just putting it all behind me. I now realize that I have become the cause for my future, rather than the effect of my past.”

Today, Martinez’ purpose is being built around his rogue homeless advocacy in Ventura County. He is a staunch believer in mental health, alcohol and drug abuse recovery before providing permanent housing to homeless persons. His strong voice in Ventura County towards supporting the homeless has cemented his name among homeless service providers. He has been persistent, advocating for the lives of those experiencing chronic homelessness and believes that if he can recover, others can too.

As a downtown business owner in Oxnard, Ron Freeman knows first-hand how Martinez’ independent approach has had an impact providing outreach to homeless individuals with results.

“I can’t say that Lang has done anything to help the overall homeless problem in Oxnard, but I can tell you that he has had a significant impact on helping individuals with immediate needs due to their homeless situation,” says Freeman.

Freeman was forced to shut down his office where he provided independent financial services in downtown Oxnard due to the pandemic but has stayed in contact with Martinez.

“I’ve seen Lang help homeless people directly. He knows the resources available and he has helped a lot of people who were in crisis. He would bring homeless folks into my office and ask if he could use the phone to call for help,” says Freeman. “Lang would go into Plaza Park and pull people off the streets and find them help. His peer-to-peer approach can be effective.”

Martinez recently assisted a 49-year-old homeless woman in Oxnard. She was struggling to get off drugs, he helped her to find an emergency shelter. She is now sober and living in a supportive housing environment with resources, and she has also enrolled at Ventura College.

Assisting this Oxnard woman is a fitting example of how Martinez helps others struggling on the streets. But it is his own struggle and journey that will resonate with others who are child victims of sexual abuse. What is contrasting is that success had run deep in his family. Lang is the grandson of Horacio Martinez, who was the pioneering executive director for the leading Los Angeles Spanish newspaper, La Opinion. As well his maternal grandfather, Tom Barrett, who worked for President Roosevelt as a secret service agent in the 1940’s.

Today, Martinez says he often sits alone digging through the trash that still lives inside him. He thinks about the nasty puzzle that represents the life he has lived. He admits that his story is hard to believe. But a person needs just five minutes with him. The level of hurt and trauma he has suffered will come to life. Martinez knows that he is fortunate to be alive. This alone gives him the motivation to try and help others.

“Lang is a resilient person, but he makes mistakes,” says Bill Murray of the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. “He’s always trying to help people and that’s a big part of his recovery.”

From his childhood and up to today, Lang Martinez has faced situations in life the average person would never imagine. The long-term effects of being a crystal meth addict can be debilitating, but he is recovering as a true survivor. He strongly believes his story will set him and other victims of sexual assault free from a living hell wrought with silence, guilt and pain.

“I now realize that this is what I had to go through to get to the other side, a place of healing in order to help others like me,” says Martinez. He says that his life’s journey is just the way it is, that after being lost for so many years, he cannot expect immediate freedom once in recovery.

Sobriety sits at the core of his life today. His ongoing commitment to stay sober and to find a way to circulate his story drives his desire to help others. He believes that if his ongoing advocacy can also reach those who are victims of sexual assault, he could establish a platform for resources and support that links homelessness, drug addiction and incarceration with being a victim of sexual violence. This is Lang’s vision. But he knows it depends on his ability to maintain his recovery.

“It’s a lifelong process, living life on life’s terms is a life struggle and it’s not easy,” says Martinez. “My recovery must believe that God is everything or it is nothing at all. My past will always be a part of me. It is the key but not the lock.”