Former homeless man becomes motivational speaker

Friday , April 11, 2014 - 10:00 PM

OGDEN — Ask Roger Tomney what makes him so happy and he’ll tell you it’s knowing the difference between freedom and addiction.

“I don’t get a lot of money but I’m pretty rich,” he said.

The 47-year-old Ogden resident said his addictions, which started when he was 10, led to his becoming homeless, to his going to jail and to his going to prison.

“I never dreamed life could be like this,” he said of the past four years go being sober. “I thought I would die in prison.”

Tomney said the selfishness of addiction led him to steal and to only care about his next fix.

But he said learning to care about others has led him to joy.

Tomney now is a frequently requested motivational speaker to many groups of people suffering from addictions.

Among those to whom Tomney has personally spoken in the last four years are youth who are living on the streets.

Tomney said he can pick homeless youth out just by looking at them and it’s his understanding of how they feel that allows him to plant seeds for their recovery.

“You can see fear in their eyes and confusion,” Tomney said. “I have told them, ‘You don’t have to live like this if you don’t want to.’”

He’s seen some he’s helped turn to a better life.

But Tomney is hoping to spread his story to help parents help kids before they choose a life of addiction-caused homelessness.

Utah is estimated to have 5,000 homeless youth hiding from the law, living wherever they can. Many of them have left home as a result of their dependence on substances.

Short of enabling their addictions, Tomney encouraged Utah parents to do what they can for their kids before it’s too late.

“Set healthy boundaries and rules and follow through,” he said. “You don’t have to yell and scream to get your point across.”

And Tomney asked parents to take time off of work for their kids if they can, noting that he hopes parents will take extensive measures to prove their affection to their kids.

“Be an example and reach out to them,” he said. “Ask them ‘Can I help you with anything?’”

He also named as suggestions involving kids in extracurricular activities such as sports.

And he asked parents to support whatever activities in which their kids participate.

“I was so selfish and my kids paid the price,” he said of his own inability to participate in their lives while he was incarcerated.

He laments over some choices he could have steered his own children from making.

And Tomney believes in like manner that if his own parents had been better examples, he too would have had a better chance.

“Alcoholism runs deep in my family on my dad’s side,” he said. “I got a quick resentment at a young age. ... When I tasted alcohol, it took my fears away.”

Tomney said his own choices of using alcohol and various drugs to dull his emotions in his youth led to shame.

And shame, he said, only led to spending more time away from his family as a young man, which led to a downward spiral that persisted until only four years ago.

The spiral, he said, led to much time behind bars and to two failed marriages.

He was sitting, handcuffed in a police car and his third wife had filed for divorce when he decided to change.

Trying to find any ounce of hope for his marriage before the divorce could be finalized is what in the end led him to reach out to God.

He said at that moment, he began his long road to recovery.

“I didn’t want to feel like that bad husband, that bad brother, that bad dad,” he said. “I bonked my head. It wasn’t to keep me out of prison. It was to keep me sober when I got out.”

He said he asked specifically to be sentenced to drug court, he said. “I swallowed my pride and I actually asked for help and they gave it to me.”

Tomney said he was living at St. Anne’s Shelter when he finally started talking the steps to turn his life around.

“St. Anne’s was one of the best experiences of my life,” Tomney said. “I went in with the attitude ‘I am going to change my life.’”

And he was soon helping another man to do the same.

Tomney said a fellow St. Anne’s Shelter client followed him to Denny’s on several occasions where he would work on his 12-step program every morning.

“He was watching what I was doing,” he said.

Tomney said this attraction helped him share with the man the need to quit talking about changing and start doing something about that goal.

And in the years that followed, Tomney said sobriety gave him and that other man a better life.

“Sobriety made me a father,” he said. “It’s the best feeling ever. I could never get 30 days sober together before that.”

Shannon J Scholarship (SJS), a group Tomney serves, will be raising money for troubled youth at an event at the Ogden Amphitheater June 21.

Those who wish to receive more information about this event may visit the Facebook page or search for SJS Fundraiser.

The Standard-Examiner Young & Homeless Initiative is an effort to find ways to get the community to come together and lift up youth who are at risk of becoming homeless or who become homeless.

The Standard-Examiner is donating $1 for efforts to fight youth homelessness for every donation made online as part of the Standard-Examiner Young & Homeless initiative, up to $10,000.

To donate, visit

Since February, the Standard-Examiner’s invitation to readers to contribute has brought in $3,255 in direct contributions and $39 in Standard-Examiner matches.

Contact reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228 or Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE.

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