Growing up in Orlando’s Pine Hills neighborhood, Rhonda (a.k.a. “Tinker”) had everything she needed. She recalls being spoiled and coddled as an only child, after her much-older brother died in service to our country.
In telling her story, Tinker reminisces about getting married and living a middle-class life in which she “raised kids, had a job and bought a four-bedroom house” after her divorce.” Though her marriage didn’t last and her two daughters went to live with their dad when they were teens, everyone still got along. Tinker continued to work and pay her mortgage on time.
A “functioning alcoholic,” her life started to go downhill at age 46 when her parents’ health declined. Right after her mother passed away, her dad suffered a severe stroke. Always very close to her folks, Tinker moved him into her large house, quit her job, and spent day and night taking care of him. They sold his home and used the money for support and to pay her mortgage. After an intense four months, her father passed away.
“I really kind of lost it,” she says of the deep mental abyss she fell into after losing her dad four months after her mom. She began to drink heavily and describes a stupor-like existence, through which she didn’t even realize the money was running out. She still paid her mortgage, until she couldn’t anymore and became behind on payments. Fortunately, Tinker’s ex-husband helped sell the home (avoiding foreclosure); and after 15 years in that nice, big house, Tinker pocketed a mere $5,000, packed up her car and left.
“I had everything,” she says. “I’d never been homeless. I didn’t know where to go, what to do.”
Tinker slept in her car for several nights. Then, her daughter took her to the woods, as neither child “wanted anything to do with” her anymore due to her drinking. Interestingly, she still felt blessed. “The people I met on the street took me in. I never had any trouble. I always had a campsite.” The reality, however, is that this living situation is far from advisable, especially when you’re sick; and Tinker was very ill with Cirrhosis brought on by her alcoholism.
Thanks to the Health Care Center for the Homeless Hope Team, Tinker was transported to the hospital for treatment on several occasions. The last time, she was so sick that Hospice was called, her estranged daughters came, her funeral was planned, and she even chose the music: All You Need is Love – by The Beatles!
Miraculously, Tinker recovered! She moved in with a friend and stayed until she broke the house “no drinking” rule. Just as she was planning a return to the woods, the Hope Team referred her to Pathlight HOME’s Restore Program, which provides permanent housing and support services to chronically homeless men and women with a disability. That was three years ago.
“This is how I know God’s there every step of the way…,” Tinker says today. “To have the AC on and to go to bed at night…I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive if I was living on the streets. Even though nothing (dangerous) ever happened…it’s hard!”
Truth be told, she’s not totally comfortable having others pay her way, though the average yearly costs for Pathlight HOME’s Permanent Supportive Housing are much less than for crisis services used by those living on the streets. “I’m still working on me. I don’t like the thought that I have to ask someone for anything.” And though she’d rather work, Tinker fears her 12-year employment hiatus and chronic physical and emotional issues would preclude getting hired. Thus, she’s focusing on obtaining disability payments and handling her medical matters.
As she sits in her homey efficiency, decorated with donated items, Tinker is grateful and content. “Living here…it’s a sense of community. My neighbors…we keep tabs on each other. “Lourdes (her Case Manager) helps me every step of the way.” Best of all, “I see and talk to my girls! And my grandson is the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen.”