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In February, a visit to the doctor revealed that McKie's blood pressure had skyrocketed and he was on the verge of a stroke or a heart attack. He stopped working at the stenography company; Paplham gave him a $25,000 donation and told him to go start that nonprofit he'd been thinking about.
On May 8, he resigned from the task force to focus his energy on filling that community-outreach void for the county's meth addicts. He knew he wanted to call it Metheds, and he knew where he wanted to put it.
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The first time McKie visited what is now the Artists' Village, the brick-lined street now home to bohemian haunts such as the Gypsy Den, Grand Central Art Center, Space on Spurgeon, artists' lofts and Memphis, he was sitting in a squad car during a ride-along. He witnessed a woman stumble out from between the buildings where Space on Spurgeon now sits; she had been raped and beaten.
In 1995, Santa Ana was one of the most crime-ridden cities in America. McKie spearheaded a successful grassroots campaign to turn around the North Spurgeon Street neighborhood where he lived. That same year, some Santa Ana neighbors united with a program called Safe Streets Now! that simply and efficiently opened up the communication between residents, city officials, law enforcement and the landlords of troubled properties.
But instead of using what funds from the city that were available at the time toward getting rid of the crime element, residents proposed a different idea: a community of artists, with a smattering of eateries and coffee shops.
Cal State Fullerton took the first big step, purchasing the building that now houses Grand Central Art Center in 1998. Other landlords followed suit, buying what's known as the Santora Building, now home to the artists' lofts and Memphis.
Having watched this community—his community—come together over the years, McKie knew this would be the perfect home for Metheds.
"The Artists' Village has always been very near and dear to my heart," he explains. "I really see a way that Metheds and the arts can work together. There is such a tight community in the Artists' Village. Recovery is about community. And it's about being able to talk to your friends. And discussing life on life's terms. So you're not sitting at home feeling miserable, as they say, sitting on the pity pot. It's about getting yourself out of that mind-set that so many turn back to, the drugs and alcohol."
In April, McKie helped to host a screening of Methat Santa Ana College. There, he met Mitch Star.
Upon meeting, McKie and Star hit it off right away—both passionate and talkative about the community and the need for an LGBT-specific meth program in the county, something like Metheds, a project that McKie shared with attendees after the screening.
"The meth issue isn't so much a problem as it's an epidemic," Star says.
McKie's vision for Metheds struck a chord with Star, who has himself fallen through the cracks of the health-care system. In 2005, Star was drugged in a San Francisco bar, attacked and raped. Paramedics found him in the alley behind the bar the next morning. Doctors, knowing this, still failed to test him for HIV. It wasn't until two years later, when Star went into septic shock, that he discovered he was HIV-positive.
While he recovered, doctors told him he was not healthy enough to work. Yet he didn't qualify for any type of general assistance.
"Budget cuts, especially in California, are making life for people like me very difficult. Programs I rely on for help are being forced to deny service," Star explains. "Because of such cuts, I was told by a Social Security worker that I was 'not dying enough' to qualify."
Star, now 28, is heavily involved in local politics; he's the former campaign manager for Gary Pritchard's run for state senate, and he's currently the political director for the OC Young Democrats.
Shortly after the April screening, Star agreed to serve as community-outreach director for Metheds, and he and McKie began to view different properties in the downtown area.
McKie's original idea for Metheds was a coffee shop. He got the idea from the Orange County Re-Entry program his stenography business had participated in: Every morning, a probation officer would drop off a kid who had been in and out of jail since he was 9 years old. The kid would work, and the officer would return him to jail at 5 p.m. By the time he had served his jail sentence, he had a job offer from McKie, a letter of recommendation and—most important—something to put on his résumé.
Looking around the Artists' Village, McKie had seen the same name on many of the buildings up for lease: Gil Marrero. McKie and Marrero had actually sat on the task force for downtown development years ago. McKie made the call, and the two got together in early March to discuss Metheds over lunch at Pangea.
McKie explained what he wanted: a place where people could come in and work on computers or résumés, a place to host meetings after-hours, but also a place that sold coffee to help offset the cost of rent. He expressed his interest in the empty space Barack Obama's campaign headquarters had once occupied on Broadway; McKie says Marrero suggested an old space across the street from the Ronald Reagan Courthouse instead, where a coffee shop called Katella Café once stood. The property had been vacant for about nine months.