ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - At 55, Shandora Lane has her own home, a sunny little apartment in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Looking around, Lane still can't believe her good fortune. Her life, she says, has taken her to some very dark places.
"I had a lot of guilt, I had a lot of shame of my life," Lane says.
For 30 years, Lane struggled with a cocaine addiction, making, she says, some terrible choices. She found herself in prison.
"And that's when I found out that I was HIV-positive," she says. "They didn't even say HIV, they said, AIDS. Because that's the only thing they knew back then. And they told me, well, 'We've got a pill, AZT. You take that, and you can continue living.'"
Lane took the medication, but never consistently.
"Inside me, I didn't care anymore," she says. "I was dying. That's what I thought."
After another arrest, and another stint in jail, a drug court judge ordered Lane into an Atlanta drug treatment program. That’s when, for the first time, she says, she realized, she had created the mess she was living.
"Everything that had happened in my life, I did to me," Lane says, "When I accepted accountability, I began to live. I began to recover, most importantly."
She found HIV treatment through Grady's Infectious Disease program. And her son, then 11, moved to Atlanta to live with her. But, with a criminal record, it was hard to find someone who would rent to them. And, without a stable place to live, she says, it was hard to stay on top of her daily medication.
"Because if someone has got a home, everything else falls into place," Lane says. "But if you're homeless, you're worrying about where you're going to lay your head at tonight. How are you going to remember to take your medicine?"
In 2013, Lane found Jerusalem House, an Atlanta non-profit that offers permanent housing for low-income people and families affected by HIV. It found her an apartment for her and her son on their family program campus near Emory.
"And when they opened the door and told me that two-bedroom apartment was mine, the tears started falling," Lane says.
Jerusalem House offered a clean, safe place to live, on-site counseling, a case manager, and programs for her son. She started complying better with her HIV treatment.
"I remembered to take my medicine because I had somewhere comfortable to come home to," she says. "The stress was relieved off of me."
Jerusalem House now has about 500 residents, 130 are children living with someone affected by HIV/AIDS. Executive Director Charlie Frew says something as simple as having a stable home can dramatically affect how people living with HIV/AIDS do in treatment.
The goal, he says, it to get the virus managed so well, it can't be detected with lab testing.
"So, at Jerusalem House, we have about an 80 percent undetectable rate amongst in our residents, where the national average is about 55 percent," Frew says. "That alone shows you the importance of housing for people with HIV and AIDS."
Two years ago, after her son left for the Army, Shandora was ready for a more independent housing program. So, Jerusalem House helped her find an apartment in Stone Mountain, assisting her with rent. She couldn't be more proud.
"My goal today is to give somebody else the chance I was given: to have a home," She smiles. "I've been clean 11 years today. And I haven't felt this way in years. At 55 years old, I am living my best life today!"
Jerusalem House is celebrating its 30th anniversary. The program has helped about 1,500 clients find stable, lasting homes, Frew says.
For more information on Jerusalem House, visit jerusalemhouse.org.