Don’t Give Up: Shirley’s Story!

Shirley Graduates!“It was always the same, every day after school. I would make up a story to tell my friends why I was walking the other way. ‘I’ve got to go to my uncle’s house.’ I didn’t want them to know I was homeless. I was terribly ashamed of it. I never shared it with anybody, and they never knew.”

When Shirley’s family came to CCO for shelter she was 12 years old but she wasn’t new to the homeless experience. For years, she and her family had shuffled from one extended family member’s house to another. At each new destination, disputes erupted and she and her family were once again displaced, and forced to move on to the next couch, floor space, or basement. Shirley grew up with a front row seat to the destabilizing effects of homelessness.

”At CCO, I got to know the staff. They were softer, kinder, and gentler, than the adults I had been around. As a child, some of my best memories were of CCO volunteers and staff teaching me how to do crafts. It had a huge influence on me. Staff and volunteers taught me how to tie-dye. I appreciated it. It opened my eyes to art and artistic expression. I’m still a crafter today. It’s a part of who I am. While my family lived at the shelter, we also did a lot of outdoorsy stuff. I remember getting out of the city and camping, experiencing nature. It was one of the best times of my childhood.”

Shirley’s family eventually moved into an apartment and successfully left CCO, but struggles within her family intensified already-damaged relationships. “I ran away because I kept being told, ‘You won’t amount to anything.’ I knew that I had to do something that would get me where I needed to be. All my high school years, I worked up to 45 hours each week. I would get up and go to school, get out of school, and go to work until midnight or 2 am. Then, do it over and over again. I had a consistent work history but my education suffered. I didn’t have much hope. My big dream was to be the manager of a fast-food restaurant. I thought that was the best I could do.”

Desperate to break free, Shirley took a leap into the unknown. “I enlisted in the Air Force. At basic training I was asked, ‘Are you afraid of blood?’ I answered ‘No,’ so I was trained as a surgical technician. I didn’t realize then how that one question would shape my life! I decided I was going to work really hard in the military. The Air Force made me feel like I had a family. It was the first time in my life that I had the structure and support to achieve my goals. I’ll never forget the day one of the drill sergeants walked pasted me at basic training and said, ‘That Shirley Richards, she’s going to be a great airman.’ I felt like I could fly!

I was stationed in Washington D.C. I took pride in my work and in the Air Force. Years went by and my surgical technician experience and knowledge grew but I knew that ultimately I wanted a civilian life.

After leaving the military, I returned to Chicago and I was hired at a prestigious orthopedic hospital. I really wanted to shine. My work as a surgical technician was exciting and exhausting. I assisted with total joint replacements and worked 50 hours a week. I cared about the patients and my co-workers. Through my work I learned more about medical research which led to a yearning to go back to school and get a degree. So I did. I continued to work full-time and I enrolled in on-line courses.

In 2012 I got my degree in Healthcare Administration. I had been told by some of the people closest to me that I would never amount to anything, yet there I stood with my diploma in hand and I couldn’t stop crying. It was a dream come true. I had finally shown the world and myself that I could accomplish something. I never stopped trying. Today, I am a partner in a medical technologies company and I have authored a published medical research paper.

I look back at myself as a little girl trying to survive family conflict and homelessness, as a teen closing McDonald’s late at night, as a new recruit entering basic training, as a young surgical tech stepping into the OR, and as an adult student studying for an exam. I truly don’t believe I would have made it to the place I am at today without hope.

When it comes to being homeless, it’s easy to give up and fall into sorrow. Don’t give up. If you’re homeless right now, find organizations like Cornerstone Community Outreach. They will help with food, clothes, shelter, training, and housing referrals; these steps will get you where you need to go. It is not easy and I’m not trying to minimize the situation, but there is help, there is hope!”

  • Shirley Richards, as told to Beth Nicholls

Happy Veteran’s Day!

CJ Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran’s Day! CJ is a former CCO resident and U.S. Military Veteran. She moved from homelessness to housing two years ago. We rejoice with her that this year she can observe Veteran’s Day from her own home. Great job, CJ!

In recent years, U.S. Veteran homelessness has declined but their is still a lot of work to be done. At CCO, we believe that safe housing is a human right. Are you a veteran experiencing homelessness? If so, a federal housing program called HUD-VASH may help you. Click here to go to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs HUD-VASH website.

Congratulations!

Successfully Housed Family!

Congratulations! It is always a joy to see one of the families sheltered at CCO moving from homelessness to housing! Our most recently housed family is pictured here proudly displaying the keys to their new apartment.

In 2015, 42% of CCO’s total shelter population is made up of children age 17 and under. 37% of these are minors age 12 and under. Providing safe shelter and working with the families that come to CCO is a critical part of our mission.

The National Coalition for the Homeless states that the average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9 years old. This number challenges a lot of the typical stereotypes that people associate with homelessness in America. Children who are homeless have special needs. Stability through on-going education, proper nutrition, and development through play space, can help lessen the burden of homelessness.

At CCO, we welcome homeless families of all kinds, mothers with children, fathers with children, couples with children, and three-generational families. Case managers compassionately work to assist families with school transfers or transportation, assessments and referrals for children struggling in an emotional or academic area, and assistance with specific challenges that may arise. We are privileged to take part in the successes of our shelter families. Consider making a donation today and be a part of helping to stabilize and strengthen the families sheltered at CCO! Thank you!

Denise’s Story

Denise

“In my storage unit, I was too cold to rest. I wanted a place to lay my head down and just sleep. I’d wrap up in ten blankets, just trying to get warm.”

Denise seems to have an endless abundance of joy. She is a very petite woman in her late 50’s with bright eyes and a wide, welcoming smile that goes well with her upbeat personality. Denise’s past was filled with a solid and consistent work history. For 30 years she was employed with Illinois Bell. She began in 1979 working part-time in the mailroom and was promoted 12 times, working her way up to full-time Engineering Clerk. After taking early retirement from Illinois Bell and giving the funds to her son to pay for his college education, Denise found work as a secretary with a moving company. Eight years later that business relocated to Florida. Denise found herself unemployed and alone. Too young for social security benefits but old enough to experience age discrimination when looking for work, she didn’t know where to turn for help.

Finding a job proved difficult and she eventually lost her apartment. Denise had an outdoor storage space that measured about 10 feet by 10 feet located in an outdoor lot on the south side of Chicago. The space held all the items from the apartment she had lost and with nowhere else to turn, she moved into it. Without any heat at all and only a few flashlights for light, Denise said she prayed, read her Bible, and cried a river in that storage unit. Keeping clean was a real challenge and when she tried to wash up in local public bathrooms she endured looks and comments from people who seemed to fear or despise her. Her former life was utterly lost.

For three years and throughout notoriously harsh Chicago winters, Denise stayed in her storage unit. To escape the cold, she would often ride the Chicago Public Transit system. “I was so tired of riding the buses. So tired… but when I rode the buses no one ever robbed me. An angel must have been sitting beside me.” Throughout these years Denise kept her difficult circumstances hidden from her son who lived out of state.

This sweet, hard-working woman had been forced so far out on the margins that she couldn’t find her way back. This past January, in the deadly cold, Denise arrived at Cornerstone. Three years of surviving alone would lead us to believe that Denise would find living with the 74 other women sheltered at Naomi House nearly impossible. Not so! Denise soon began to encourage homeless women younger than her, giving words of wisdom, and helping to defuse tense situations.

During her time at the shelter, Denise felt that God told her, “I’m giving you the rope but it’s up to you to grab ahold and pull yourself up.” And she did just that. During her stay at CCO Denise got security guard training, earned her PERC (Permanent Employment Registration Card) card, and got full-time work as a security guard. Of Naomi House staff Denise says, “They really supported me. The case managers got to know me and took time with me. I felt that they respected me.”

For the last 8 months Denise has been working full-time as a security officer for a domestic violence shelter that serves women with children. She enjoys her work immensely. The day Denise moved into her apartment she shouted, “Lord, You have been too good to me!” and then sat down and cried tears of gratitude. We rejoice with Denise!
Denise’s story reflects a trend of age-related employment discrimination. Regardless of her impeccable work history and experience Denise struggled to find a job. The turning point in Denise’s story is when she arrived at CCO and began to climb out of the day-to-day survival situation she had sunk into. We have been blessed by her stay and applaud the employer that saw what we see in Denise – a lovely, enthusiastic, hard-working woman who simply needed a job.

– Denise Hardy, as told to Beth Nicholls

If you are a donor then you helped to provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and intensive case management services to Denise and other CCO residents like her. Please consider giving again financially today. If you have not made a donation to CCO consider giving a gift that will help someone move from homelessness to permanent housing. Thank you!

Denise

Happy Father’s Day!

lydell - Copy

The staff, volunteers, and residents of CCO would like to wish you a very Happy Father’s Day! CCO is proud to welcome homeless father’s with children. Fathers often find it difficult to access shelter space because many shelters are designed for single adults, or women with children. It has been our privilege to assist dads with kids as they stabilize their families and work toward permanent housing.

Take a moment to visit Our Stories and scroll down to choose a success story featuring a father who has secured permanent housing for himself and his children. Pictured above is Lydell, a friend and former CCO resident, who worked against the odds to make a home for himself and Little Lydell (also pictured). Take a minute to read their story.

Happy Father’s Day! We hope you have a great weekend!

Leland House Computer Lab!

Leland Computer Lab

“They’re here! They’re here!” was the loud proclamation of three school-age children who live at Leland House. The children at Leland House are now able to do their homework on the newly installed computers. They were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. “Wow! Two new Apple computers and a printer!”, was another students reply when he saw the new computers & printer. Leland House provides permanent, supportive housing to 20 school-age children and their parents. The children can now come home and access these computers after school. Every Tuesday we have 3 Moody Bible Institute student volunteers who come and help tutor the children. Up until this time, they had been trying to use our very old computers that were barely functioning and  sometimes didn’t work at all.

Thanks to the generosity of The Barnabas Project this miracle of new computers has now blessed our after school room. The staff, volunteers and especially the families with school-age children are very grateful to receive these generous gifts. The computer lab will benefit and enhance the Leland House program and all its residents.
Leland House is CCO’s permanent, supportive housing program. Leland House provides 18 families with safe apartments and intensive, on-site case management services. Staff have been praying, hoping, and wishing for new computers. Now the children are better equipped to achieve their education goals. Moms and dads at the Leland House program also use the computers to search for job and  housing opportunities. They can now register online, search for job training and employment opportunities, create and post resumes, and search the web for other opportunities.
Thank you Barnabas Project for your compassion and kindness you have shown to the families at Leland House!

Stepping Stones to Success!

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Here are a few of the ways CCO residents got help in January….
We assisted 27 people in getting their birth certificates from a range of different States. Birth certificates and important ID are the stepping stones to the services that are available to homeless families and individuals. It’s nearly impossible to get anything done without identification.


We helped 3 families with rental assistance, so they could either stay housed or successfully move into housing. We also helped another 2 guys get some household items. If they hadn’t gotten this assistance they would have moved into completely empty apartments. Now they can settle into their new place and make it a home.


We also assisted 8 people with transit cards, because they got employed and couldn’t get to their new jobs (we helped them until they get paid and can afford their own). Another 2 people needed work boots and one lady needed help getting a uniform.

All of the assistance mentioned above has been part of the stepping stones that allow our shelter guests to find and sustain stability and permanent housing. We are grateful to be a small part of their success. You can continue to be a part of the good things that are happening at CCO. Considering volunteering your time or making a financial donation.

Thank you!

Veteran Success After 30 Years Homeless

Success
In early 2013, Tommy, a senior citizen and Vietnam Veteran, wandered into our place. He’d been homeless for 30 years! Yes, that’s not a misprint; Tommy had been homeless in Chicago for 30 long years. For 30 long years, he’d been rotating in and out shelters and uninhabitable places! He lives in this massive city, without income and without health insurance! For 30 years, Tommy had been an invisible man in the hustle and bustle of never-ending crowds!

Tommy is an extremely unassuming and polite man! He is drug-free, alcohol-free and felony-free. He doesn’t want to bother anyone. He’s happy to quietly sit and I’ve never heard him complain! (I’m complaining for him) He just lives “day-by-day”, accepting his “homeless fate”. When he wandered into Cornerstone, he didn’t come yelling or demanding answers, he was just expecting CCO to be part of his journey, he was expecting CCO to be just another place to lay his weary bones! But, we had other plans, so we drew this information out of him…..

And upon hearing this American tragedy, we knew we had to be the answer. We also knew it rested upon our shoulders to help turn his tale of despair into a story of hope!

This is a little shout-out to a couple of my fellow case-managers (Andre and Franck); through some amazing displays of dedication and love, Tommy’s story has changed! Tommy trusts us! Tommy knows we care! Tommy needed direction in trying to navigate through a complicated system that is wrapped in a lot of “red tape”. Tommy needed people to advocate for him. He needed people willing to do a lot of leg work for him. Results started happening when we personally took him to the Veterans Administration, Social Security and other places. Results started happening when we became his voice and made a bunch of phone calls on his behalf! Tommy is now getting helped medically by the VA and he’s on the tedious path toward finally getting the financial assistance he deserves.

We didn’t just say, “Hey Tommy: Do this; GO”. We went with him! We spoke for him! We made sure he was seen! We made sure Tommy was “invisible-no-more”! Through these efforts, Tommy got his HUD VASH (Veterans Administration Supportive Housing) voucher.

Tommy’s tragic tale has resurrected into a source of hope!
After his long and tedious journey, Tommy successfully moved into his own apartment in early 2014! He is now getting the support, medical care and financial assistance he earned and deserves.

-Jeremy Nicholls, CCO Men’s Program Supervisor

Veterans Day last year was just another night in a shelter for Tommy. Through compassionate support and intensive case management, Tommy has now been housed in his own apartment for nearly two year!

Five Families Housed!

CCO Family

Recently, five families sheltered at CCO moved into permanent housing! We are proud to see the determination of our shelter guests and the assistance and support of our case management team in reaching this excellent goal!

CCO provides shelter for families of all descriptions. Unusual family arrangements often have difficulty finding shelter space. Fathers with children struggle to find shelter placement. CCO welcome dads with kids and has been a part of their amazing success stories. To read Lydell’s success story click here.

Safe shelter, nutritious meals and intensive case management services matter in the lives of homeless men, women and children. Help us continue to serve Chicago’s most vulnerable population. Consider donating today!

Thank you!

Make Dine Out Plans!

CCO Dine OutMake plans to dine out tomorrow! CCO is hosting its first ever dinner fund raising event. “An Extra Helping for the Homeless” is a fun way to support homeless services and help alleviate hunger in Chicago. Tomorrow, July 22 participating Chicago restaurants will be donating 5-25% of their meal tabs to CCO. This will be at no added cost to the diner.

Check out the list of participating restaurants here. Please note that Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s require you to bring a flier. The link to the flier can be found next to the store logo or click here for Giordano’s Flier or here for Lou Malnati’s Flier. Just print and dine!

Thanks for supporting CCO in this new and exciting way!