Not Everyone’s Holiday is Sugarcoated
The tenants said Bonzina was a “breath of fresh air” when she moved into Whalley Terrace three years ago. Now 67, she’s the youngest resident at this 22-unit apartment building for people aged 62 and older where Columbus House provides onsite Case Management.
Just like the past few holidays, Bonzina is baking, writing, and relaxing in her home. She will leave freshly baked treats on her neighbors’ doorsteps and spend time with her son and grandson who live nearby.
Life wasn’t always so sweet, though, and Bonzina wants you, and everyone she can reach, to hear her story. “When I’m a platform I don’t like to sugar-coat anything. I really want people to know.”
“I really didn’t think I was homeless.”
From a very young age Bonzina experienced homelessness, but she didn’t realize it.
“It’s been like a ping pong ball back and forth all through my life. When we were kids, my father gave me and my sisters drugs. We grew up thinking it was okay to use drugs. Nobody ever told us what could happen to us. Nobody said it was bad and you shouldn’t do it. We moved around from place to place to place because of something my father did to me or to someone else.”
“I really didn’t think I was homeless. But if you have to stay with somebody and sleep on their couch, you’re homeless. It’s not your home, your name is not on their lease. You’re still homeless, regardless of you having somewhere to sleep. If it’s not your own, you’re homeless, and that’s where I fit in.”
Being Sober Smells Different
In the mid-1990s, for about a decade, Bonzina was living in New Jersey. She was married with a young son and happily working at a group home where she helped people in her community. She was content and felt stable, but eventually the demons of her tumultuous past resurfaced.
Bonzina lost the stability she had worked so hard to attain and found herself in the throes of substance misuse. She struggled to get back on her feet for years. Eventually she found the strength to get help.
“I wanted to see the change, and the change is better than being on drugs. It’s a different world. It even smells different. You know what I mean?” She laughs, “It SMELLS different.”
Bonzina entered a recovery home. She says she was the only black girl and experienced racial bias. She had to work harder than the other residents to get the help she needed. She succeeded and graduated from the program.
Determined to maintain her sobriety, she came to Connecticut in 2015. Seeing her as an inspiration, a family member wanted support managing their own substance use disorder and invited Bonzina to live in the same home. Unfortunately, the family member was unable to get well, and it served as a trigger for Bonzina. She knew she had to get out of there, so she packed her bags with nowhere to go.
Bonzina bounced from couch to couch until she ended up at a domestic violence shelter. From there, she was connected to Columbus House and finally to her apartment at Whalley Terrace.
“All of the places I saw before were holes in the walls. I didn’t even want to go inside sometimes. But, I got here – oh my God – I froze right in the middle of the living room. Because this place here, is like heaven to me.”
Now that Bonzina has had time to pause and come to terms with the trauma she endured much of her life, she wants to help break the stigma of homelessness. She wants to remind you that when you meet someone who is unhoused, “you never know what they were going through behind closed doors.”
Healing Through Writing
“I encourage people to pick up a pen and pencil,” says Bonzina.
One of the most healing activities Bonzina has done is writing her memoirs, “this actually was my therapy – it calmed me down – I felt like I had to get it all out.”
After sharing the heart wrenching introduction to her book, she told us, “I’m okay now, trust me. I feel better if I talk about it. It is a lot, but it’s me. My calling is to reach out to other men, women, and children that have been abused.”
Bonzina has 177 handwritten pages detailing her traumatic childhood. She says this is just part one of two. It’s titled “A Voice without Words.” She hopes that once she’s able to get her story out, others who have experienced abuse will be inspired to share their stories and begin to heal as well.
Permanent Supportive Housing
While Bonzina stays occupied writing and baking, she’s grateful for Michelle, the onsite Columbus House Case Manager at Whalley Terrace. Michelle is there to help the tenants stay safe, stable, and housed. She speaks highly of Michelle, “I love her. If I have something that comes up emotionally that’s bothering me, she’s that listening ear. If she can give me a way of handling it – she does that. She helps me with all the forms I have. She tells me I need to set goals – and I do! I told her I never save money. But here, I see myself starting to save.”
This year, Bonzina started taking online classes in order to get back into the workforce and is saving for a car so she can get to grocery store with ease to continue baking for her neighbors. She is grateful for her home and the help she continues to receive from Columbus House.
Thank you for helping people like Bonzina find safe, stable housing where they can heal from the traumas of homelessness.