Homeless to Hired: Meet Leonarda “Dina” Esposito

Dina smile

As a young woman, Dina struggled with mental health issues after a failed marriage but soon found comfort in a new relationship. It was in this relationship that her drug use began. She started using occasionally, and when the relationship became mentally and physically abusive, the drug habit worsened.

In an attempt to get clean and make a better life for herself, Dina broke up with her abusive boyfriend. However, the break up didn’t last for long. During their time apart, Dina’s boyfriend moved to Florida and asked her to come live with him, as he no longer used drugs, had an apartment and a job. It wasn’t until Dina moved to Florida that she realized everything he told her was a lie. There was no job, no apartment and he was still using drugs. The two ended up living in a cheap motel, where Dina eventually began using drugs again. Stealing to pay for drugs became a habit, which led to time in jail for both Dina and her boyfriend.

Once out of jail, Dina was alone with no money and no place to live. She was forced to sleep on the street. After months of living this way, Dina was finally tired of her life and wanted a real change. Fortunately, a man appeared one day as she waited at a bus stop and told her about the Coalition. She says that this man was her guardian angel.

Dina ultimately made her way to the Coalition, but there were no rooms available when she arrived. After four days of sleeping outside of the Coalition gates, she finally got a room.

As time progressed, Dina met with a PATH case manager from Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare. The PATH Case Management Program serves clients who are homeless and have mental health issues. Dina didn’t think it would help her; but it did. She was put in Lakeside’s residential program which was a welcome change. She had a place to live, went to recovery meetings and was determined to get clean. She followed the program and even volunteered to help others at food pantries.

Throughout her recovery, Dina’s progress was recognized and she was offered a part time peer specialist position with Lakeside’s Recovery Clubhouse Program. Lakeside was so impressed with her ability to connect with clients that Dina was eventually asked to become a permanent PATH peer specialist, located at the Coalition – the very place that helped get her back on her feet.

With the help of the Coalition and Lakeside, Dina was able to get her life back. As a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor, Dina tears up as she recalls the hardships she has endured, but says helping others is helping her work through the pain of her own past.

She loves what she does and says, I can’t see myself working anywhere else. This is my heart and joy.”