Meet Tinker

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.”

Meet Allen

Allen reminisces about growing up on a farm in Tennessee with his parents, graduating high school in Indiana, and having had “a pretty good life until the year 2000.”

A hard worker who was skilled in heavy mechanics and employed in the construction trade, he got married at age 24. A financially comfortable couple, they bought a “brand new home” in 1987. Unfortunately, their union didn’t last and they divorced in 1989. “My drug of choice is alcohol,” he admits. “That’s probably the reason it didn’t last.”


Allen remarried two years later. “For three to four years, all was fine. Then, she got into drugs.” Between his drinking and his wife’s drugging, “It got so bad, she didn’t pay the bills or the mortgage,” and they nearly lost the home he’d bought with his first wife in 1987. Their reprieve came with a second mortgage; however, once that money was spent, the bank foreclosed on the house and his wife left. His life came crashing down “All at once!”


“I lived here and there. All I had (was) my Harley,” Allen recalls. Moving from place to place, his continued drinking resulted in several DUIs and the loss of his driver’s license. Then, he got laid off from his steady job in transportation and was hit by a car while riding his Harley. Remarkably, Allen still continued to work at odd jobs. “I’d work for anybody who’d pay me. I can do about anything,” including rebuilding alternators and starters and heavy construction.


Allen’s nomadic life ended with a move to the woods in 2002 with “no car, no nothing…and I sold my Harley.” A trustworthy guy with a lot of skills, who didn’t drink on the job, he started picking up work at the labor hall and making money. He also began working for several families in Winter Springs, one of which still employs today. As to his “home” in the woods, “I had a nice little set-up.” People even told him he “had it made!”


His heavy drinking finally caught up with him, though, causing peritonitis with impending cirrhosis of his liver. Fortunately, Allen got help through the Hope Team from Healthcare Center for the Homeless, who met him in the woods. They took him to Orange Blossom Family Health and Winter Park Hospital for his medical needs. They also referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Safe Haven Program at Maxwell Garden. That was in March 2015.


“I met Rotaya. (She) will do anything to help. Allen, a resident of the Orlando Permanent Supportive Housing program at Pathlight HOME, in his gardenIf you even mention it, she’ll make it happen,” said Allen of his Case Manager. ”But you have to put your own effort in it. She’ll find a way to give you the opportunity.” With Rotaya’s help, he set goals and accomplished them rather quickly, such as getting new teeth, eyeglasses and his Social Security benefits.


His goals for the last year have been to get back his drivers’ license and buy a truck; and he succeeded! As well, he wanted his “own place,” and has recently moved from the bedroom in Safe Haven into an efficiency in Maxwell Garden’s Homes for New Beginnings Program.


“I’m still getting used to it. I have a new bed, a rug; I’ve been buying stuff,” he says cheerfully. “I want it to look good! There’s a sense of pride,” says the man now loves tending the community’s vegetable garden just like the farm on which he grew up. “The opportunity is there, but you’ve got to want it…”