Opportunity House has a profound impact on the lives of homeless and low-income families in the greater Reading and Berks County areas of Pennsylvania. We provide emergency shelter, meals, and housing to support to men, women, children and Veterans who are homeless. Our Success Stories share inspiring insights into our client’s journeys from homelessness to being stably housed. Sunny is living at Opportunity House’s homeless shelter again. He knows what he needs to do and what it will take to get back on his feet. He’s done it before and is confident he will do it again. Sunny’s life was filled with disappointment and his fighting spirit has helped him every step of the way.
A Childhood With Love
At age 5, young Sunny was welcomed into his foster family. His foster mother was unrelenting in her care and compassion for him. But Sunny’s anger and deep emotional scars kept him from feeling part of the family. Eventually, he adapted to this new family and the idyllic and calm lifestyle that he didn’t have earlier in his life. Yet, Sunny dreamed of finding a permanent home. While in foster care, loving families offered to adopt Sunny. “They would talk to me, get to know me, and tell me they wanted me to be part of their family,” he shared. “I wanted them to love me for who I am and welcome me into their family,” added Sunny. His biological mother would make a court appearance and object to the adoption. It was a very mixed message for young Sunny. “I wanted to believe that one day, we would be back together as a family,” said Sunny. “I also wanted desperately to be a part of a family that loved me.”
A Mixed Message
At 16, he was given a choice to stay with the foster family or return to live with his biological mother. Hoping to get the loved he was searching for from his biological mother, he went to Chicago to live with his mother. He hoped they could build a relationship and she would love him. The move was catastrophic. Sunny and his brother, Anthony were hanging with a rough crowd. His brother was part of a violent gang. His brother Anthony put a gun to his best friend’s head and heart and killed him. His idea of family life was shattered. Their mother left Chicago and went to Philadelphia. The emotional scars from the trauma were too much for her to bear. Sunny begged her to take him to Philadelphia. She rejected him for the second time in his young life and he was once again emotionally shattered. He contemplated taking his own life. “I was too scared to live and too chicken to die,” noted Sunny. Bad habits are hard to break, and Sunny continued hanging with the wrong people, stealing, dealing drugs and eventually landed in county prison. After his 6-month incarceration, Sunny made a promise to never return to prison. After leaving prison, he needed a fresh start and decided to move to Philadelphia. His mother and biological siblings were also living in Philadelphia. He was hanging out on the streets of Kensington, a notoriously bad area and Sunny quickly began using heroin. He went to prison again. His behaviors and drug use continued and the pattern repeated itself several times. Then he experienced a moment of clarity that he can’t explain. “I felt this consciousness in my heart and in my head. It was very clear something had to change,” added Sunny. He didn’t know how to change. Prison was both familiar and a safe place for Sunny. It was calmer than life on the street. The only solution Sunny imagined was going back to jail knowing that at the end of the sentence, he would be a different person. He felt a higher power was leading him to change his life. When he stood before a judge to hear his sentence, he was offered a drug rehabilitation program in prison. Sunny agreed, he got the opportunity to make a major change in his life.
Searching for Meaning
In prison, Sunny was introduced to Native American spirituality that focused on nature and understanding his role in the natural world. He was also forced to confront the monster he had become. “I had to look into a mirror and talk to that person. I saw what I had become, and I knew I had to change,” added Sunny. He committed to stop the lying, stealing, and the other behaviors that led to prison time. He had to let go of those things that used to define him. After leaving prison, he came to Reading for a fresh start. He was a new person shedding the burdens and habits of the past. In Reading, Sunny met a girl while he was a client at the Berks AIDS network. Being part of that network gave him the support he needed to live with HIV and continue on his journey of self-discovery. They moved in together and had a son. Her parents paid for the apartment where they lived. When AIDS took her life, Sunny was forced to leave the apartment and her parents took custody of their son.
Home at a Homeless Shelter
With nowhere to turn. Sunny came to Opportunity House’s homeless shelter. He stayed for six months. “This place cared about me. They give me a different perspective on my life and gave me a reason to continue,” added Sunny. At Opportunity House, he met someone who loved him unconditionally. This helped his heart to heal. For 13 years Sunny, his wife, and her children enjoyed a normal family life. The children grew up, and eventually, Sunny and his wife grew apart. They separated. Sunny returned to Opportunity House. “It gave me time to focus on myself, understand my demons, and create a path forward.” He managed to get back on his feet and live independently. The life he wanted seemed to be happening. But a series of failed relationships left Sunny out on the streets. He knew he needed to return to Opportunity House. It was the support he needed to remain focused on living the new, healthier and honest lifestyle he desired. “The staff showed me love and compassion,” added Sunny. “They supported me and encourage me to be independent,” noted Sunny. In April 2021, he left the homeless shelter expecting never expected to return. In January 2023, he was physically threatened in his own home. He came back to Opportunity House. “I was welcomed back,” adds Sunny. Today, he’s rebuilding his life again and taking the steps he needs to get back on his feet. “I walked through hell to become who I am today. I see who I really am, and I have hope.” While it’s taking longer than he anticipated, he’s not discouraged. “I know I’m going to leave here strong enough to stand on my own. However long it takes, I know the staff supports me,” he noted. He’s confident he’ll find a job and have his own apartment. Then, he’s determined to write the next chapter of his life.