Chris Miller grew up in less than ideal living conditions. Growing up poor as a teenager, his family was forced to live in homeless shelters. And sometimes all seven family members would be cramped up in a motor home.
For food, Miller and his family would often stand in line at soup kitchens in downtown San Diego.
At one point things got so bad that Child Protective Services took Miller away from his family.
But it was a San Diego Police officer who made all the difference in Miller’s adolescent life.
Miller recalls when he was a newspaper delivery boy, making spare change for his financially struggling family, that one day during the route he had his bicycle stolen.
San Diego Police officer Ray Stachnik stepped in to help the young Miller.
“He (Stachnik) reached out to help me when I was young and did some good things for me,” he said. “And it made a difference in my life, and I remember that to this day.”
Now a police officer himself, Miller, 36, carrys that memory of Stachnik with him.
And Miller, an 11-year veteran on the National City Police force, paid back his role model the only way he knew he could: helping a young teen in need.
Connie Venegas pleaded with her son Martín to go to school. When the 16-year-old refused, he got aggressive, leading the mother to call the cops on her son.
Once police arrived to the I Avenue home, Miller saw the frustration on the 16-year-old’s face.
“The poor kid was in tears,” said Miller, describing the situation when he got to the scene. “So I don’t think he was per sé being violent, he was just very frustrated and didn’t have control of the situation.”
As another officer questioned why the Sweetwater High School student didn’t want to attend class, Miller conducted a standard residential inspection to see what living conditions were like.
In a residential inspection, a police officer makes sure there are no hazardous things in a home, checks if there is food and inspects the safety of the child.
As Miller walked inside the house, the first thing to hit him was the odor of the home.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever smelled in the 11 years that I’ve been here,” he said.
Miller couldn’t explain the smell but said it was so horrid that the smell stayed with him when he got home.
The home wasn’t the most sanitary, Miller said.
Miller said there were swarms of flies buzzing everywhere, trash on the floor. The pet Chihuahuas were infested with fleas.
“What it really boiled down to was a really, really dirty house, not something illegal,” the National City police officer said.
Then came inspection in Martín’s room.
Miller’s heart nearly broke when he saw the teenager’s makeshift bed.
A torn up mattress was propped up on five milk crates. Some areas of the mattress sagged, and other areas were firm. There was no box spring, sheets or pillows.
And because the milk crates were so low to the ground, it was easy for the dogs to jump on it and infest it with their fleas.
It was time for Miller to be Ray Stachnik.
Feeling bad for the boy, Miller took it upon himself to get a bed for the boy.
“I know a good night’s rest is really great for reliving stress, but if you’re lying on a mattress that has dips in areas and a milk crate and there’s fleas and dogs jumping on you, you’re not getting a good night’s rest,” Miller said.
With limited resources, Miller reached out to the community, much like Stachnik did when he got Miller a bike.
Miller contacted Mor Furniture in National City and asked the furniture store if they would donate a bed frame and a
standard box spring. Mor furniture didn’t hesitate, Miller said.
Then he was able to get a bed and a bag donated by the local Walmart.
Vadira De La Rosa, a supervisor at Walmart, said Miller was truly thankful for the donations.
“He was hugging us, he was very happy, he was very emotional and excited because he knew the situation,” De La Rosa said.
Miller said he hopes one day Martín will pass the good deed along.
“I was able to relate to good things that were done for me when I needed help,” he said. “And I hope that some day Martín can do that for someone.”