Commentary: Sonja Tyler — Housing Works’ Fiery New Advocate

She was jobless, homeless and on drugs before she sought help. Now she's a tireless champion of help for people enduring similar ordeals.

Posted: 11/29/2011 06:08 PM EST

Ten years ago, Sonja Tyler was working for New York City as a welfare fraud investigator. She’d never touched drugs and thought homelessness was something she only read about in the newspaper.

Then she lost her job, and soon, her apartment. Suddenly, she found herself in a position she’d never imagined: Cycling between homeless shelters, friends’ sofas and a sleeping bag in Fort Greene park.

Lost and depressed, she also turned to drugs.

“[When you’re homeless] there is no planning,” she said. “It’s not a way to live, it’s not a way to live healthily. Mentally, emotionally, you become very sick and very ill ... It can break the strongest person.”

In 2008, though, she found Housing Works and enrolled in several of our mental and health services. She stopped using drugs and began to heal on the inside. Now, she volunteers at our Crosby Street location, manning the front desk and helping staff however she can.

She’s also taken on a new role: advocate for the homeless. In September, she was one of three clients selected to travel to New Orleans to attend the North American Housing and HIV/AIDS Summit. There, researchers, policymakers and people living with HIV gathered to discuss advocacy strategies for increasing housing opportunities for people living with and at risk of HIV contraction.

“I went to Housing Works for selfish reasons, and after I got myself together, I just started to give back,” she said. “Housing Works has really helped me become human again, it helped me become a normal person ... [and] not just me, but the people around me.”

 

For more information on HIV, AIDS and World AIDS Day, please visit BET.com and  housingworks.org.
 

 

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(Photo: HousingWorks.org)

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