Tonia: A Survivor’s Story

February 25, 2022

“Those that judge don’t matter and those who matter don’t judge.” Elly Derr 

Before Tonia sits down to share her story, she gives a big high five, “I am 10 months in recovery!” She and her sponsor are looking forward to going bird watching in Asheville when she reaches a year on April 12th 

Tonia is a survivor. 

Between addiction, life on the streets, mental illness, and cancer, that is an understatement. 

Tonia said she wasn’t brought up or taught to understand what love means. Tonia grew up with five siblings. Her father was absent, and her mom left her when she was 13. She was in and out of foster care. Her brother introduced her to crack cocaine when she was 15 years old. She was addicted to the drug for the following 22 years. 

Tonia is determined to never use again. “Once I use, I’ll lose everything,” she said. 

That “everything” she has built is her job, her home of her own, her health and the positive supports and relationships surrounding her. 

In housing, Tonia no longer has to worry about surviving, she can focus on thriving. 

Tonia works part-time as a personal care assistant for an elderly couple. The wife experienced a stroke, and the husband has Alzheimer’s. “I love my job. I can’t believe that my clients are people that are depending on me!”  

Tonia had been staying at the Salvation Army Center of Hope women’s shelter before she moved in to HillRock Estates. Through Roof Above’s Homeful Housing program, 75 units are reserved for permanent supportive housing for individuals with long-term experiences of homelessness. She lovingly refers to her apartment at HillRock as her “baby mansion”.  It’s the first time that she has had a home and porch all on her own.  “I had been afraid to do this without a man,” Tonia shares. 

Tonia has squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. She is in chemotherapy which has caused her to lose her hair. She shares that she isn’t feeling as confident in herself as she would like, although you would never know with her upbeat personality, style and beauty that radiates.  

She has built positive and loving relationships with people who she says changed her and made her see herself differently, namely her former probation officer, friends from the Narcotics Anonymous program and her sponsor.  After she served her probation last year, she asked that her probation officer continue to meet with her weekly to keep her accountable for staying sober. At a particularly low time, her sponsor helped her to get the job that she loves. “These people kept loving me, they are invested in me and their light shines on me which allows my light to shine,” said Tonia 

This year Tonia is focused on “having a better relationship with God”, her self-care affirmations, getting her credit together and staying mentally strong. “I have a lot of people holding me accountable,” Tonia said with a big smile.