Thursday, November 7, 2013

The power of 3 – Will, hard work, and a bit of help

Andrea’s story is not an unusual one for the homeless population, I have not chosen an anomaly to trick anyone into leaning a particular political direction, but rather I chose a strong representative of the homeless population to help people understand the reality of people struggling with housing.

Andrea became homeless for the first time in 2008. Her job in tech support was not a stable one when the economy fell, and with many companies unsure of their future, she lost her full time position and struggled to make up the lost pay elsewhere. Even with 13+ years of professional experience and a college degree, she was fighting in a market that was dwindling as swiftly as her savings account. Eventually, this led to Andrea no longer being able to pay her rent, and with no family nearby to help support her since she was 19 years old, she found herself on the street with nothing left but her belongings and a college diploma.

Andrea came to LPCS after moving in and out of temporary housing and emergency shelters for several months. She never had to ask for money on the streets, something she describes as would have been more embarrassing and degrading than prostitution, but there were many times when she would aimlessly walk, hoping someone would notice on their own how hungry she was and offer to buy her a meal or better yet, give her a job. Majority of the people experiencing homelessness are not on the street asking for money, nor are they all just looking to feed an abusive addiction, but this has falsely become the assumptions of homelessness.

Andrea eventually learned about the Lincoln Park Community Shelter (LPCS). “I think when you are hopeless, you can sometimes find a lot of people wanting to help you”. Andrea needed help, and this is very difficult to admit, especially when she had been independent for so much of her life. LPCS gave her a place to live safely with dignity without worrying about food or shelter, and she focused on finding work and saving money again.

In her time at LPCS, Andrea was able to practice her mock interview skills, hone her resume, go to interviews, and still work part time or freelance. She also met her fiancé while staying here, another Guest of the program. With a mutual love of Star Trek and technology, they immediately struck a bond. When he moved into his own apartment, they began dating officially. It did not happen quickly, because Andrea wanted to focus on herself, but she says that “after over a year of being homeless, meeting him is the sanest thing that has happened to me. It makes the pain of this experience bearable. I do believe that when you are there for someone—even at their worst moment, you will survive – and that is special.” 

He proposed on one knee, after she had been hinting that if he is going to do it, he should “do it right!” The next day the couple blissfully went downtown to pick out a lovely ring.

At one point Andrea was downtown Chicago, passing the time of the day until the emergency shelters would open. She never imagined that she could one day  be back downtown looking for a beautiful ring.

Andrea eventually found work with the help of her Case Manager at LPCS as the Associate Digital Producer for an international Education and technology company. She struggled to find an apartment still, with her bad credit from struggling to pay student loans no one wanted to rent to her. Eventually, with support of her fiancé and the money she could save while staying at LPCS, Andrea was able to put a strong enough deposit down to get an apartment.

“How can someone get back on their feet after losing everything, especially with no degree or skills? I had a degree and skills, and still I needed some help. In 2009 I lost everything; my savings, my 401k, my family, and my friends. But I am responsible, I can save money, and I wanted to work. One day you may feel that your life will never be the same, but you wake up, you do what you need to do, save any money you have, work on getting better skills, try your best every single day, and one day the tide will turn and it will work. The power of 3 – Will, hard work, and a bit of help”. 

Andrea and her fiancé were homeless for collectively 4+ years. They both now work full time, have a two bedroom apartment, and are looking forward to their wedding in 6 months.

 A July 2013 analysis by CCH shows 116,042 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2012-13 school year. Chicago officials claimed that the total number of homeless people increased 4.7% during the year-long survey period.

For the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2012 Survey on Hunger & Homelessness, the city of Chicago reported that 13% were employed but homeless, 8% were veterans, 6% were HIV positive, 26% were severely mentally ill, and 33% were domestic violence victims

According to the annual Out of Reach study (March 2013) by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Illinois housing wage is $17.02 an hour, 21st among the states (rates range up to $32.14 in Hawaii). In order to afford this level of rent and utilities – without paying more than 30% of income on housing – a household must earn $35,392 annually. With the Illinois minimum wage at $8.25 an hour, a household must have two minimum wage earners working full-time

Where can I call for help for a homeless person in the city of Chicago?
Please phone Chicago City Services at “311″ and ask for “short-term help.”Callers will be transferred to a Homelessness Prevention Call Center. The center is housed and operated by Catholic Charities, with services available in multiple languages.

By: Meghan Freebeck, Community Relations Manager

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