04/23/2012 05:17 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2012

The Way Your Life Starts Out Does Not Predestine Your End

Tina was born at a time (1962) when being a bi-racial offspring was unwelcomed in most states. Her young parents never stood a chance as a couple -- no white picket fence for this family. As a result, her mother folded under the pressures of society and became a drug addict, and her father disappeared from the scene, giving yet another child no prospects for the future.

She spent the first 12 years of her life being shifted from one home to another, suffering mental, physical and sexual abuse. At age, 13 she decided to take her life into her own hands and strike out on her own. Not understanding the true meaning of homelessness, she was experiencing it and did not even know it. Over the next 25 years she followed the only examples that she knew: addiction, homelessness, abuse and chaos -- never staying anywhere too long, constantly in motion, running from her past, by no means feeling a part of or accepted. In her many attempts to get her life on track, she entered shelters and substance abuse programs to no avail. She became a loner, with one hell of an independent streak, never trusting anyone. Even after all she had been through her spirit had not been broken and she was determined to find her place in this world, convinced that being a homeless drug addict was not it. As she looked back, she believed that God had saved her for a reason and she was at a point in her life when she was ready to find out why.

At age 43, the opportunity to return to school after dropping out in the 9th grade arose. School was like entering a completely new world to her. One thing about living outside of the main stream, time stands still and Tina's world had very large gaps in it over the past 43 years. Being in school for her was like a kid in a candy store, she wanted to try everything at once. Finally, things were starting to make sense, when she compared her life experiences with this newfound education she had acquired. She realized that she was not a bad seed and many of the things she encountered in her life were not all her fault. At that point, she decided she wanted to assist others who had experienced homelessness, because who better to help, than someone who had shared their experience and now had the education to help them understand why some of these situations happen? With her master's degree in Social Work from Barry University (Miami, FL) in hand she set out to save the world as she knew it. However, no one told Tina that even though she had been in school for five years and had completely turned her life around, society would still present challenges and was not so forgiving. Through her search for employment, she constantly encountered stumbling blocks and at times brick walls. Refusing to give up, Tina used the same tenacity in her new established life, as she did overcoming obstacles in her past.

A friend asked her to attend a meeting of the Homeless/Formerly Homeless (a group that advocates for the homeless), Tina thought "Why not?" Maybe this would be a way in, to network, or meet someone that could help her with trying to find her place in this new life she had established. At this meeting, she met two young people that run The Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau. This bureau offers formerly homeless individuals an opportunity to do speaking engagements in the community in an attempt to change the stigma that surrounds homelessness. A light went off in Tina's head, who better to be a speaker than her? She thought that with all her life experiences she should be good at this. She says, "should" because even though she has overcome addiction and homeless, there was still an inner voice in her that told her that she is was good enough to fit into mainstream society. She says that this learned behavior is hard to get rid of, even for the most determined.

Tina says, God must be looking down on her, because shortly after joining the speaker's bureau, she applied for a job as a Community Outreach Liaison for the organization that sponsors the speaker's bureau, the Miami Coalition for the Homeless. Out of the 35 candidates that applied and were interviewed, she was selected for the position. She says with tears in her eyes, "finally my past has become a helpmate instead of a hindrance."