A Michigan native, Donna moved to Tennessee in 1990 with hopes of a brighter future. After drifting for a few years, she landed in Nashville. "I was working temporary jobs out of a labor pool, but it just wasn't enough."
She soon became homeless, and during an extended period without a place to live, Donna said her personal life was in shambles.
“I was staying in Centennial Park, in the bushes.” Through it all, Donna turned to drugs and alcohol, a problem that ended up costing her more than she could've imagined. In 2010, it was because of Donna's addiction that she lost custody of two of her life's biggest joys: her boys.
It was after that, in October of 2011, that Donna started selling The Contributor. She sought support at Serenity House, and has since even seen some of her customers there. “I bump into somebody and they see I’m doing good.”
She said her customers have given her strength and purpose throughout her seven-year tenure selling papers. “In the morning, I’m at my spot at 14th and Broadway. They know me and they really keep me going.”
Donna graduated Park Center's recovery program this past year, but after a short period of relapse, she recently returned to Park Center to enter the recovery program for a final time. This past week, Donna finished the program once more, swearing off drugs and alcohol forever. "I'm clean and sober now."
Since her graduation, Donna has had high hopes of securing housing. “I told my inner self I’d feel so much better if I just had a place. Feeling homeless is a whole different picture. You feel depressed- it’s not the same.”
Last year, Donna received health insurance and has since been focused on finding a permanent place to live. “I never thought I was going to get it because of my two evictions and background. Places all over were denying me.”
But Donna kept her faith through it all, praying and believing a blessing was around the corner. That blessing came this past month when, after almost 20 years of homelessness, she secured an apartment. “It’s great! It’s quiet and there’s no drug traffic allowed. It’s a mansion to me.”
Over the past few weeks, as she's settled into her new place, she said she has finally taken the time to relax. “I finally got to see my 10-year old son in my new apartment; that meant a lot. I’ve had more hope living this way.” The result of a court battle, Donna gets visitation rights with her 10-year old son. However, she won't see her 14-year old until he is 18. "That's alright, those four years will fly by," she added.
Donna said there’s no chance of her losing her apartment now. “I’ve seen what I’ve lost in my life. I know I have a brighter future to live on if I leave [drugs] alone.”
After living with despair for the majority of her life, things are finally falling into place for Donna. She has made lifelong connections with her customers. "Selling The Contributor has been great. I have business customers, Christian customers."
Recently, one of Donna's customers sent her a care package in the mail. "I never had that happen before. They really care about how I''m doing."
In November, she will travel to Detroit to visit family that she hasn't seen in 14 years. Now that she is in housing, Donna hopes to enroll in online classes to pursue work in the medical field. She also hopes to trade in her bus pass for car keys someday.
Since becoming sober, Donna uses her story to mentor to others. “There’s so much pain I’ve been through, but there’s also joy that I’m still here.” She said she hasn’t always followed the Christian path, but she knows she’s here for a reason. “I know if I’m still here I have to help somebody else who’s going through the same thing.”
Donna has fought battles of addiction and homelessness for the better part of her life. But now, she says it’s over.