“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!