Thank you Tourism Toronto for beautifully renovating the bathroom for the single women sheltered at CCO’s Naomi House program! You’re work is an improvement and encouragement. What a transformation! Thank you!
Homelessness does not discriminate between genders, ages, ethnicities, levels of education, or other demographics. At CCO, it has been our privilege to shelter newborns with their families, elderly persons, people with developmental disabilities, those with master’s degrees, adults who have worked full-time their entire lives and some with no work history at all. Anyone can become homeless.
Elizabeth’s story challenges the norms of who we believe can become homeless in America. It breaks down the fences that divide the “haves” and the “have nots”.
“My father was a very hardworking man. He owned a construction company and he instilled a strong work ethic in me. Growing up I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have what we needed.
After getting my master’s degree in finance, I worked full-time as a financial advisor in the Loop. My husband, Doug, was a stock analyst who worked at the Chicago Board of Trade. I have memories of being downtown at work and homeless people would ask me for change. I wasn’t thinking about the person in front of me. I was thinking about what I was going to have for lunch, who was going to pick-up the dry cleaning, and when I had to be at my next meeting.
I had always lived in the Chicago suburbs. My husband and I had a beautiful home with our sweet daughter. We often had barbeques with neighbors. That’s the sort of life we lived.
After 15 years of building our lives together and of living the American Dream, my husband Doug suddenly and tragically lost his life. We had had a good marriage. We had higher education and great jobs. I couldn’t have stopped what happened to Doug, but for some reason I blamed myself. The loss was unbelievable and shocking. I felt a part of me died with him.
At the funeral someone gave me a drink and I remember feeling numb. That’s what I wanted to feel. Heavy with grief, I just wanted to feel nothing at all.
I quickly became a functioning alcoholic. These were very dark times. I remember going to an AA meeting. A woman was talking about her husband. She said that he was dying and she was so depressed she couldn’t stop drinking. Her story spoke to me and that’s when I realized I needed help. She’s my sponsor to this day and we are very close. I also got intensive residential treatment. It was unbelievably hard physically and emotionally, but I stuck with it. The 12 steps are an important part of my life. People say it’s about making amends and forgiving others, but I think it’s mostly about forgiving yourself.
In 2008, the recession hit and my company lost 30% of our clients. In 2009, the company closed. I was unemployed and the money was running out. I sold my house and moved to Chicago. I wanted to make sure that my daughter had money for her education. That was very important to me. My unemployment eventually ran out and I began to sell everything I had in storage: furniture, household items, everything.
I was frantically looking for work all over the city. Employers kept saying, “You’re overqualified. We can’t pay you what you’re worth.” I just wanted to work. I believe part of the problem was my age. I just kept being rejected and turned away. And I didn’t have anything left to sell and I became homeless.
I found shelter at CCO’s Naomi House program for single women. The staff made me feel welcome and showed me around, but those first few days and nights were tough. I couldn’t believe I was in a shelter. I felt like the biggest failure. I had gone from full-time employment with a home in the suburbs to homelessness. I had never been homeless before. I was scared and I just wanted to hide but I couldn’t. I started to send out 50 resumes a day. I used every computer I could get my hands on.
I was working hard to keep my hopes up and attending AA meetings. CCO has a Free Store where residents and neighbors can “shop” for necessary clothes and household items. One day I was searching the Free Store for cold weather clothes and I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.” I ran downstairs to the Naomi House office and showed it to staff and said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!” Everyone believed me and we had a good laugh!
Soon after that, Sandy Ramsey, CCO’s Executive Director, called me into her office. I couldn’t figure out what I was getting in trouble for. Instead of getting in trouble she offered me an employment position at CCO. I was so surprised!
Now, I am working in the Naomi House program that I had lived in myself. I work as an evening and night staff person. Women living in Naomi House have a lot of needs. When I’m at work, I feel like I’m a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a referee, an officer, a financial advisor, you name it!
I really feel like CCO saved my life. Not just because I got shelter when I was homeless, but because I was given hope, purpose, and employment, too.”
-Elizabeth Hartline, as told to Beth Nicholls
Congratulations to Brooke, who moved out of CCO’s Naomi House shelter for single women and into her very own apartment on Valentine’s Day! We’re proud of you, Brooke!
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Addressing homelessness, providing shelter, accepting people, finding home.
“Finding home” is the moment when housing happens for a homeless person. We are proud of our shelter guests and case managers that work to find a place for everyone. It is pure joy to see someone with new apartment keys and a big smile.
Join us in our effort to bridge the gap between homelessness and home. Help us “Find Home” for our shelter guests. Donate Today!
“To live under a dictator is like slavery. There is no justice. There is no peace. It is not a free country.” Over fifty years of living under a Congolese dictatorship was long enough for Ildevert Mboungou. In the Congo, Ildevert worked as a chef for the employees of a major oil company. When it was found out that he was a supporter of the Democratic party the dictatorship that ruled and mistreated the Congolese people for decades began to severely abuse him. Ildevert was forced to leave his employment, his home, and all he knew. He had to escape his homeland and flee to America.
“I flew directly to Chicago. I did not know anyone. I was alone and deeply sad. I was living in the el train station and a man approached me and spoke my language. He told me that he knew where I could get help and he brought me to CCO (Cornerstone Community Outreach). I don’t know who he was.” Homeless shelters do not exist in the Congo and Ildevert was not aware that help was available or how to find it. This kind stranger took him from being isolated and living outside, to CCO where he could find a sense of community, support, and help for the future.
“I came to CCO with only a plastic bag that held my Bible, documents, passport and coat. That is all I had but I was happy to find shelter. I met Franke, Andre and Jeremy and they made me feel welcome. I was able to have meals, clothes, showers, and a bed. I am no longer alone and outside. Coming to the shelter was extraordinary!”
Almost immediately, Ildevert told staff that he would like to volunteer in the kitchen. “Cornerstone helped me, I want to help Cornerstone.” His culinary skills have been put to good use and he does a magnificent job and among CCO’s shelter guests Ildevert has found friends. One friend helps him practice the english language and is a great source of encouragement.
Today, Ildevert’s time is filled and he does more than volunteer for CCO. He is taking a course at Truman College for English as a second-language. He has begun training to get a certificate in Food Service at Inspiration Corporation. He is an active volunteer at the Kolver Center for survivors of politically-sanctioned torture. We rejoiced with Ildevert when he received his political asylum certificate from the United States government. And we look forward to seeing great things from this humble, grateful and generous man. “I prayed and God remembered me and brought me up from my low place.”
Nearly 3 1/2 years has passed since Ildevert’s story was first posted. Ildevert’s entire family has joined him in Chicago. His children are enjoying a good education, Ildevert is employed and they have an apartment to call home. CCO is privileged to be part of Ildevert’s story and grateful experience his kindness and generosity of spirit. Refugees truly enrich our lives.
– Ildevert Mboungou, as told to Beth Nicholls and translated by Francke Moukiama
Today we are congratulating Eliud! A former CCO resident, Eliud has been successfully (and happily) housed for over 4 months. He told us he feels like a king in his very own castle! Clearly, he’s overjoyed with his studio apartment and we are happy to have him stop by for a visit.
“They [CCO staff] stayed with me during the dark days. We stuck together. I was a stranger and they took me in and took care of me.”
About one year ago, Annie came to CCO’s Naomi House shelter for single women. She celebrated her 55th birthday with staff and other residents while staying with us. Annie’s honesty speaks for itself, with statements like, “I’ve had five years of clean time but [my recovery] is still one day at a time.”
Before coming to CCO, Annie was employed, but when she was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, she lost her job, her income and the stability it provided.
With her vision fading, Annie arrived at Naomi House. The discouragement was palpable, but she pressed on with her recovery and worked with staff to connect with the clinics that could save her eyesight. She said, “God puts you in places for a reason. There was a reason God sent me here. I’m grateful.”
While living at Naomi House, Annie enrolled in GED classes at a local community college. She is excited about meeting this new goal in her life. Even at 55, she is not stepping aside and watching life roll by. Now, with her classes completed, Annie is scheduled to take her GED test. We are impressed with the effort she exhibits and we look forward to seeing the outcome!
A few months ago Annie said, “I’m grateful for this place but I’m ready to go home!” We are happy to report that Annie is now permanently housed and continues on her recovery path.
We can’t forget about our single shelter residents at this time of year! It can be especially challenging to be on your own for the holidays. That’s why CCO, along with our generous volunteers and donors, have had several great events for the residents of our Naomi House and Epworth shelter programs. We want to thank Elkgrove Calvary Chapel for serving delicious holiday treats while passing out new backpacks, socks and winter wear for our single shelter residents! Thank you!
Aging and elderly homeless people are among the most vulnerable population we serve. This overlooked group of people often struggle with physical challenges that exacerbate their efforts to get housing. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that “Homeless persons aged 50-65 frequently fall between the cracks of governmental safety nets: while not technically old enough to qualify for Medicare, their physical health, assaulted by poor nutrition and severe living conditions, may resemble that of a 70-year-old.”
34% of CCO’s single homeless shelter residents are over 51 years old. We welcome adults of all ages and often senior citizens and the elderly need the most assistance.
We are privileged to serve homeless senior citizens with shelter, meals and intensive case management services, always with the goal of permanent, stable housing.
If you would like to join CCO in providing a safe and beneficial space for Chicago’s homeless, click on the button below. Thank you!