Debra talks about her childhood in Jersey City as a time full of promise. The public housing complex on Montgomery Street had activities and day trips available and neighbors who helped one another. As the youngest of five, Debra had strong role models in her hard-working mother and father and lots of fun times as a family. 

“They taught us to act responsibly, and how to make a living.”

At Ferris High School she was a twirler and ran track. After high school, she worked in retail at stores in New York owned by a favorite uncle. She also worked as a quality control inspector at Top Property Connection L.T.D. while living in Jersey City.  Her family had a business, her father had two hotdog trucks that she worked in for many years while going to school.  By her late 20s, however, she had started abusing alcohol and drugs and suffered a nervous breakdown. Her mother was given custody of her two children. Nearly two decades of addiction and periods of homelessness followed until she just decided she had had enough.

“I just made up my mind to turn myself over to any program that would help me.”  Debra worked the 12 step program at Alcoholics Anonymous, completed the Intensive Day Treatment program, and attended the mental health program at the Jersey City Medical Center. In April, she proudly celebrated her 8th year of sobriety.

It was one of her counselors who referred her to the United Way of Hudson County's Collaborative Solutions Program, which provides housing assistance and counseling for the chronically homeless. When she heard that she had been approved for the program, she said she fell to her knees in a prayer of thanks.

“The people at United Way have been very supportive,” said Debra. “They opened the door for me to be a responsible, independent person again. They have answered my prayers.”