When you meet Tanya, a resident in Family Services’ Permanent Supportive Housing program, the first thing you’ll notice is her bright smile. And when you hear her story, you can appreciate just how much that smile means after everything she’s been through.
Tanya was emotionally and sexually abused throughout her childhood, and as she began to form relationships of her own as a teenager and into adulthood, she accepted further abuse from men, including the father of her children. To numb the out of control feelings that came with the complex trauma, Tanya started using drugs.
“When I first started using, everything felt better,” said Tanya. “But drugs fool you, rule you, then destroy you. And that’s what happened to me.”
Tanya deeply loved her children and her grandmother and wanted to be there for them, but she couldn’t stop using drugs. Her addiction eventually led to losing custody of the children and losing her relationship with her grandmother. Tanya became homeless and endured physical and sexual abuse during her time living on the streets. And while she was completely alone and still mourning the children she’d lost custody of, she became pregnant.
This time, she vowed it was going to be different. Tanya wanted to change her life. She and her newborn daughter entered Mothering Heights, a residential drug treatment program for mothers with babies. There, she was finally able to get clean and stay with her newborn daughter. After the treatment program ended, she still had nowhere to go so she rented a room from an old friend. But within the first two weeks, he began physically abusing her.
That’s when Tanya came to Family Services’ emergency domestic violence shelter, Karen’s House. Tanya and her daughter had a safe place to stay and a team of advocates to help her plan for safety. She was able to receive counseling, and have fellowship with other women who had been through her same experiences.
After a month at Karen’s House, Tanya and her daughter entered Family Services’ Permanent Supportive Housing program. Residents in this program contribute a portion of their income toward rent for their own apartment, with Family Services paying the balance. They also receive wrap-around support, including counseling, case management, and specialized services for children.
“I remember when I first went to my apartment, all I had was a key and one blanket,” said Tanya. “But Family Services and local ministries helped me get furniture. And I would gradually find things I needed at thrift stores. I can look around my apartment and remember how I got each item, and each one means so much to me.”
Tanya has now been clean and sober for almost six years, and she is using her experiences to give back to the organizations that have helped her. She volunteers as a leader in her Celebrate Recovery group, where she welcomes newcomers and introduces them to the program. She also volunteers at Mothering Heights, helping to transport residents to their offsite recovery meetings.
Tanya is also a leader in Family Services’ Supportive Housing Resident Council. This group of residents in the program meets monthly to give input on program policies and plans opportunities for residents to get together as a community. They recently helped Family Services develop a handbook for residents entering the program, where they included tips and pointers for newcomers. They also planned a Fall BBQ event in October for residents to enjoy a day of fun at a local park.
“It feels good to be a leader. I know that I can give back, give advice, and be a helping hand to someone new in the program. I truly have lived it, and I do it from my heart,” said Tanya.
Tanya’s biggest goal is to be a great mother to her daughter, as well as to her older children. Now that she’s in a better place, she gets to have weekend visits with them.
“Looking at the past makes me sad,” she says. “When I walk my daughter to kindergarten, I wish I could have gotten help sooner so I could be walking all my kids to school.”
But Tanya can smile through the tears, because now she has hope. She knows she will continue to grow into her true self with the help of Family Services and other community organizations who have come alongside her.
“I’m thankful for so much: my church, Family Services, my counselors, even the person who drives me to my medical appointments at Family HealthCare Network. There are so many organizations working together to help a person survive and get through it.”