Former social worker starts to get her life back on track

Former social worker starts to get her life back on track

CHAMPAIGN – A workplace injury led Sue Studnicka on a downward spir- al that eventually left her homeless.

The 54-year-old former social worker was one of the first clients at an overflow shelter set up at a Champaign church last January. She'd been living in her car and a Rantoul motel for about two months.

Studnicka, who has diabetes, developed an antibiotic-resistant staph infection in fall 2007 after a piece of sheet metal cut a gash in her leg on the job. She was sick for four months and couldn't work.

"I lost my apartment. I pretty much lost everything," she said.

Her sister, who is in a wheelchair, had been living with her but had to move to a nursing home because "she couldn't sleep in a car with me."

Studnicka stayed at the overflow shelter for three days, until the Center for Women in Transition found room for her. "I walked in, and everyone applauded," she said. "It was so nice."

She said she "mentally shut down" for the first few months. She'd been through a rough time in recent years and lost friends who were uncomfortable with her circumstances.

"People develop these attitudes about you when you're homeless. I used to think that if you were homeless you weren't trying hard enough. It's been a learning curve."

With help from the shelter, Stone Creek Church in Urbana and her brother, who loaned her a car, she's getting back on her feet. She's working at her old job at Combe Labs and saving up to find her own apartment, but wants to wait until she has three months of "fallback money" first. She's a temporary employee, so if production slows down, she doesn't work.

Studnicka, who used to run group homes for developmentally disabled adults, would like to get back into social work eventually.

She's not sure what she would have done without the shelter. Probably lived at a motel as long as she could swing it.

Plus, she's developed a social network of friends there, both staff and clients. "I think it would have been a lot harder if I wasn't here," she said.

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