A P L A C E T O
C A L L H O M E
S T O R I E S F R O M
S U P P O R T I V E H O U S I N G R E S I D E N T S
S U P P O R T I V E H O U S I N G P R O V I D E R S A S S O C I A T I O N
H O U S I N G A C T I O N I L L I N O
© 2019 Supportive Housing Providers Association and Housing Action Illinois.
All rights reserved. Any use of materials in this manual, including production,
modification, or distribution without prior written consent is strictly prohibited.
For everyone who is, or has been, without a place to call home.
Allison - Chicago 9
Béjor - Hillside 10
Brenda - Chicago 12
Cecil - Hillside 14
Charles - Rockford 16
Cheryl - Peoria . 18
Cleveland - Hillside 20
Darius - Mt. Vernon 22
Dean - Rockford 24
Donna - Mt. Vernon 27
Holly - Mt. Vernon 29
Laura - Chicago 32
Marketta - Chicago 35
Patrick - Chicago 36
Stanley - Hillside 39
Steve - Peoria 41
T. Bryant - Peoria 42
Taj - Hillside 44
want to share my story to
help someone in need
be of help or encouragement to others and myself
help others who are going through hardships know that they’re not alone
help someone else in the same situation
help at least one person
share the resources we have
prevent it from happening to someone else
Storytelling for Change
What is something about you, or something that you’ve experienced, that
not many people understand?
We asked this question at the beginning of each workshop in our
Storytelling for Change initiative. Our participants answered in all
kinds of ways, sharing experiences with mental illness, domestic
violence, incarceration, and much more. What they all had in common
was something that the broader public usually finds very difficult to
understand: everyone had experienced homelessness.
Today, our storytellers are all living in permanent supportive housing,
which combines affordable housing assistance with voluntary support
services designed to build independent living and tenancy skills and
connect people with community-based health care, treatment and
We brought these individuals together for a series of storytelling
workshops in 2019 because we believe that the seeds of change are
found in everyday experience—and in sharing both everyday and
extraordinary experiences with others. The stories of people who live in
supportive housing can shed light on important issues, such as what it is
like to experience homelessness or live with mental illness or a disability.
During the year, we traveled around the state to facilitate storytelling
workshops for supportive housing residents in Mt. Vernon, Peoria,
Rockford, Hillside, and Chicago. We discussed how stories can shape
understanding and bring about change. After talking about narrative
techniques that help shape stories, we practiced writing and speaking
about our lives, sharing both the good and the bad. Everyone in the room
became a teacher as they shared their experiences and hopes.
The stories in this publication grew out of the workshops, and we are
grateful to everyone whose experiences are shared in these pages.
Together, we can build a more understanding, compassionate world.
“The things I’ve
being housed are
What housing means to me: I look at it as making me a better person. The
things that I have accomplished by being housed are so awesome! Before I
was housed, I was a homeless mother of three, living from house to house,
sleeping in houses that maybe a friend or family moved out of until the
landlord asked us to leave. I was eating out of the garbage or waiting for
people to finish eating so that we could eat. I slept on trains and on buses.
Now, looking at my life…what a long road! Now I’m
here, sitting on a few boards, working with AAMC,
UIC, Mile Square Health, and Science Center. I am
a Speak UP! Advocate through CSH.
I have been in my own apartment for nine years. I wake up everyday with
a smile on my face and thank God and supportive housing programs
for this life that I’m living now—no more sleeping on the train, bus, on
the streets, or in outdoor bathrooms. I have a good relationship with my
family, and I have friends.
I help people like myself find housing. I started a Christmas giveaway
for mothers with mental illness, as well as a program where we pass
out coats, hats, and gloves to the homeless. These are just some of the
things that I do now. I want to say thank you to two very important
organizations: Thresholds, for saving my life; and CSH, for teaching me
about housing and why it is so important to be housed first. To them I
say thank you, and thank you all so much for listening to my story!
“It’s been healing,
and restorative in
its own way. I’ve
learned so much
about the world,
about what I want,
what I need.”
I’m lying in my bed, in a room—not my bedroom, the dining room. I
haven’t done anything all day.
What I want to do, I can’t speak of, and I don’t want to fathom it. What
I need to do, I don’t understand. But what I am doing is getting closer to
The dining room is the very next room to the kitchen, where the knives are.
And right now, cutting my throat doesn’t seem so hard, not so bad.
But the sound of my mother’s despair against my sister’s comforting words
is causing me so much pain.
“I gave myself an
ultimatum. I was
either going to kill
myself or I was
going to leave.”
Thinking about how my family would
feel if I committed suicide was the only
thing keeping me from doing it. It was
obviously very powerful, because if
I decided I didn’t care how they felt,
I was going to do it. I gave myself an
ultimatum. I was either going to kill
myself or I was going to leave.
And it’s not like my family was horrible. They weren’t horrible, but they
weren’t the best. It was a toxic environment, but it could have been much
worse, is what I’m saying.
I packed five bags and hid them under my bed. I remember sitting on
my bed, so anxious and so scared, so afraid, wondering, “What do I do
next?” And then I heard my mother coming in from work at 7 or 8 pm,
and I knew I had to go. Because if I saw my mother’s face—and if she saw
my face—she’d know what was going on. That something’s not right.
As she was coming in the front door, I was leaving out the back door. I
had five bags with me. I was 19. The bags were heavy, so I was walking
slow. I heard her coming out of the back door and she was calling my
name. I started to run.
I went downtown and I stayed there for a
couple of weeks. I was sitting in McDonald’s, in
alleys. I think I went to my dad’s for a little bit.
Long story short, me deciding to leave my
home was probably the best decision I ever
could have made for myself. Not only because
I didn’t kill myself, but because it has given me
the space to be away from my family, who was
causing my pain. Space to be away from that
I was 19.”
It’s been healing, and restorative in its own way. I’ve learned so much
about myself, about the world, about what I want, what I need. And I
don’t think I would’ve been able to do that in such a short time period if I
would’ve stayed at home.
“I want people
to know that
happened in their
life that led to this.”
For eleven years, I worked as a real estate agent in Chicago and the
Western Suburbs. I was proud of my work. I helped many first-time
buyers find the home of their dreams and enjoyed helping people make
decisions that were good for them and their families.
“I walked away
I knew, including
my home, and I
But in 2006, I became overwhelmed. I
walked away from everything I knew,
including my home, and I began sleeping
on commuter trains. One day, while I was
on the train, a police officer noticed me
and brought me to Madden Mental Health
Hospital. There, an outreach worker from
Thresholds asked what I needed, and I
shared that I had lost everything and now
hoped for housing and an income. After
a short stay at Madden, I moved into a
transitional housing program.
Three months later, I moved into a supportive housing apartment
operated by Thresholds in Rowan Trees Apartments. While there, I
participated in a support group and worked with a counselor on a path
to recovery. It was very helpful to have someone to talk to about what
happened to me, and to process these events for myself and with the
caring of others. Thresholds was supportive in every way.
In 2012, I moved on from supportive housing. I currently live in an
affordable unit on the West Side, not far from where I grew up. Today,
I may not have enough money in my pocket to financially help others,
but I want to help by fundraising for resources for people facing
I also want to change the public perception regarding homelessness. I
want people to know that when someone is experiencing homelessness,
something happened in their life that led
to this. It is not because they are lazy; some
kind of tragedy or trauma often leads to
homelessness. I recently graduated from the
CSH Speak UP! program and now tell my story
as an advocate for more supportive housing and
to help others feel less alone in their struggles.
“I tell my story as
an advocate for
housing and to
help others feel
less alone in their
Brenda shares her story at a Speak UP! event in Chicago
I was abandoned by my mom when I was
14, in Jacksonville. Florida was completely
out of my league; I’m from Indiana.
One year earlier, my mom and dad got divorced. Back then, if you were
13 or under, you had to stay with mom. If you were 14 and over, you could
go with dad. I was 13, I stayed with my mom. She moved all the way to
Hollywood, Florida. We were there about six months, but she didn’t like it.
She decided we were going back to Indiana. On our way, we stopped in
Jacksonville, Florida, to go to the convenience store and get some lunch—
meat and bread and chips. There was a little picnic table, so we sat out there
to make sandwiches, and my mom says she’s gonna be right back. She
walked around the corner to the store, and I didn’t think anything about it.
Twenty minutes passed. I started to wonder, where’s she at? So I walked
around the corner and see no car. Then I walked into the store and asked
the guy in the store. He says, “Oh, she left.” I said, “Where’d she go?” And
he said, “Oh, she got in that car.”
And right then, that’s how I got left. I didn’t want to go to the authorities,
because I thought they might put me in one of them foster homes. I was
14—I would have had to stay until I was 18. I didn’t know what to do. Talk
about struggling—14 years old and being on the streets. But I can’t blame
my mom for any of the things that I turned to, as far as the drinking and
the drugs over the years. I ain’t done drugs in a while, but I still got to get
over the alcohol.
“I got a good job
and worked at
for 23 years. I
was married for
“I was abandoned
by my mom when
I was 14.”
I got a job when I was 16. Later, I met a
lovely lady and moved to Illinois. By the
grace of God, I got a good job and worked
at Caterpillar tractor for 23 years. I was
married for 21 years. Got sober for four
and a half. I relapsed back in ‘97. I went
to prison for three years. My wife finally
divorced me, said, “I’ve had enough of this.”
Prison basically ruined my life, cause I’m never gonna get a job. I fell to
addiction, being an alcoholic, homeless. I said I’m not gonna do good work
no more, I’m gonna enjoy my life while I’m young. So that’s why I traveled.
If you’re homeless, it’s hard not to get up and drink every day. I was still
going to my church then, and one day my pastor said, “Hey, it’s only eight
o’clock in the morning, how many beers have you had?” and I go, “About
three?” But they were 24-ounce beers, so the real answer was about six.
I knew if I go over to PADS, I’m not gonna get in, because I’ve got alcohol
on my breath. I would always sleep outside; I had my little cubbyhole. It
ain’t the people you got to worry about rooting around, it’s the animals!
Boy, they don’t take no for an answer. Raccoons, skunks. Raccoons are the
worst. They’re mean. If they smell booze, they’re gonna try everything they
can to get in your bag. They’ll follow you all night.
One day, I was ready to get my bus ticket and go back to Arizona—the
weather was getting colder, it was August. But I was called by one of the
girls working for PADS out of Wheaton who said, “We got an apartment
for you.” One of the other girls took me
to the apartment and said, “Does it meet
your standards?” And I said, “Lady, I
been sleeping in a parking lot or outside
for eight and a half years.”
And it’s great. You know, I’m still
struggling with alcohol. I got a great case
manager, Kimberly, she’s a wonderful
lady. Willing to do anything, help with
anything, all I gotta do is ask. That’s my
problem, I don’t ask for anything, just
like I don’t ask for help with drinking,
I don’t ask for help. I’ll do my own
panhandling and get my own money.
“She said, ‘Does
it meet your
I said, ‘Lady, I
been sleeping in
a parking lot or
outside for eight
and a half years.”
I haven’t been in the apartment even a year yet. At first, I actually told
Kimberly, I want to move out. I’m so used to living outside. She taught me
to stay in. She gives me all kinds of projects to do, sends me to classes, says
pick two a week. I go to a lot of meetings, programs. I think when someone
speaks, everyone in the room can get something out of that. You always
My name is Charles, and I am a
member of the Carpenter’s Place
Permanent Housing Program in
Rockford, Illinois. I’m sharing a
story of hope and recovery.
“I’m sharing a
story of hope
My journey in life began as a typical child, except for some things; what
I thought would be only minor setbacks growing up, perhaps emotional
problems or a few tantrums. Little did I know that soon, these kind of
problems would alter my life in ways that I never thought possible.
There was a time when mental illness was something that could be
addressed with a limited amount or number of medications to experiment
with; not to mention that awareness of this disease was also limited. As a
teenager I began what is known as trying to medicate one’s self.
Not being completely aware of the implications, this of course led me
down a path of a worsening condition: addiction. Now, at this point,
I’ve had many “ups and downs,” such as having spent time in rehab, jail,
I decided to look into the “probable causes” of such a horrible curse. I
brought myself to a mental health center to seek some answers. I was
diagnosed with Bipolar, as well as drug addiction or whatever might
constitute being a drug addict. At least I had some insight now.
“There were times
when I really wanted to
give up. Nights under
a bridge, nights spent
in a public elevator to
stay out of the rain.”
Throughout my struggles, there
were times when I really wanted
to give up. Nights under a bridge,
nights spent in a public elevator to
stay out of the rain.
However, with the help of local and
statewide organizations, I do have
relief and a place to call home.
I’ve not been in legal trouble for many years. My dependence on
medications keeps me focused enough to at least ensure some hope. I’ve
good relationships with friends and family. I’ve no longer had the extra
burden of having to worry about my needs in general.
I surely hope this story strikes a nerve with other folks that need a
My supportive housing is a kind
safety net and real blessing.
Currently, I’m looking forward
to some time away on the road
temporarily and hopeful for many
other great times ahead. Thank
you and God bless.
housing is a kind
safety net and
Storytelling workshop in Rockford
My name is Cheryl Elaine Hedden,
and I’m 38 years old. My eyes are
blue, and my hair is at the moment
red with a little bit of green in it. My
life has not been easy.
“My life has not
I was placed in foster care when I was still a baby at 16 months old.
Unlike most cases when it comes to foster kids, I never switched homes.
The very first home I was placed in was the only home I was placed in.
The couple adopted me and two other girls. Even though he was dying
of cancer, he still adopted us girls so our mom wouldn’t lose us to the
system. I was eight when we lost Daddy Engelbrecht.
When I was 11, Mom decided to hire someone to come play Santa for
us girls and the other foster kids. She arranged to meet him, he asked
her out. They dated two weeks and were married. Unfortunately, he
didn’t like me. He was always telling me I was never going to amount to
anything. It’s hard to have hopes and dreams when you’re a useless waste
of space. He died when I was 18. The damage was already done, and to
this day I still feel like I’m worthless
and I’m nothing and not worth loving.
“He died when I was
18. The damage was
already done, and
to this day I still feel
like I’m worthless
and I’m nothing and
not worth loving.”
When I was 23, Mom met a guy
online—she went to Nevada to meet
him and she married him. They
split their time between Nevada and
Illinois. I don’t understand why, but
I had no trouble in accepting him. I
called him Dad from day one. He was
grandpa to my daughter and my son
shares his middle name.
When I was 24, I was raped by two men I trusted. I’d still been a virgin.
That rape is how my daughter was conceived. Instead of an abortion or
putting her up for adoption right away, I kept her. I’m sorry to say I didn’t
bond with her. She was adopted when she was five.
I’ve held a few jobs and met my ex-husband at my last job. He asked for
my number, I told him it was 1-800-GET-LOST. He thought that was
an invitation to ask me out to dinner three times. He was sweet and
charming until I married him. He like to hit me. We divorced in 2011
after separating in 2010.
Since then, I’ve been in and out of homeless shelters in Pekin, Peoria, and
Bloomington. I’ve lived on the street and stayed with friends. For the
most part, the guys I’ve dated were abusive. I’ve been raped more than
In 2017, I started dating a guy who I met through a friend of mine. He
was a guy who would drink from the time he got up to the time he went
to bed and would use any drug that would give him a high. He liked to
beat the girls he dated. When I finally was able to break free from him, I
didn’t know I was pregnant.
The night before I moved from Bloomington back to Peoria is when I
found out I was pregnant. I stayed at the South Side Mission for a year,
and while there I was able to get the help and support I needed to have
my son and try to get him back. Staying at the South Side Mission put
me in contact with the Dream Center Permanent Supportive Housing
Program. I am no longer homeless
and no longer scared that I’m going
to get the hell beat out of me.
I’m dating someone new and
wonderful. He’s funny and a smartass
but he doesn’t put me down and
he doesn’t hit me. I actually find
myself looking forward to the future
and seeing what’s going to happen
to the future
what’s going to
“For five years
now, I’ve had my
own home. I’m
thankful for my
own place where
I can be my own
I want to tell my story so I can reach other people. Maybe they went
through something I went through, or maybe they didn’t, but I want to
be able to help somebody.
I came to DuPagePads in 2012 after being homeless for eight years. I was
reluctant to use services or go to groups or classes. I didn’t trust people. I
had lost my son. I tried to commit suicide. I didn’t know how to deal with
the loss of my son. So I turned to the bottle, to drugs. I was mentally and
physically destroyed, and my
mind was all over the place; I
But in June of 2014, I qualified
for the supportive housing
program. That’s when things
started to change. I won’t
forget, when I met my case
manager Katie for the first
time, I tried to bully her.
“I qualified for the
when things started
Day one, I tried to bully her. I wanted to see where she was, you know?
But she stood up to me. And from that day, I respected her. Katie, she put
me in my place. You know, showed I was not gonna bully her.
We moved me into my place together. In December 2018, I graduated
from the Transforming Impossible
into Possible (TIP) Program, a sixweek
The group opened my eyes wider.
I learned a lot from it. I realized
that the only one hurting me, was
myself. TIP helped me deal with
things and then let it go.
“I am learning
For five years now, Katie’s been
putting up with my ins and outs.
For five years now, I’ve had my own home. I’m thankful for my own place
where I can be my own person. Without DuPagePads I’d be lost. I would
either be in jail or back on the streets living a life of crime. Without
Katie, I would be lost. I learned to trust people again. I am learning to
transform impossible into possible.
Mt. Vernon workshop
Most people don’t know me. My problem is, I don’t open up. Usually,
people think I’m a normal dude, but inside, I’ve got a million things
going on in my head. Most people don’t understand how trauma can shut
you down. Most people don’t understand that. They don’t understand me
because I don’t share it. So, I want to
learn how to share more.
how trauma can
shut you down.”
I was incarcerated in 2001 due to
federal drug charges and served 11
years in prison. I got my GED while
in prison. I heard some inmates were
able to take college courses if they
could pay, but my prison wages were
only 14 cents an hour. After I was discharged, I stayed at a halfway
house for six months. I started a refurbishing and painting job. During
my employment, I was able to design and implement a new system of
“A goal I have
in life is to be
processing the refurbished items to increase productivity. I paid 25% of
my wages for housing at the halfway house, and I attended groups there.
While at the halfway house, I heard about the Southern Illinois Coalition
for the Homeless. But I ran up against some barriers to enter the
program. If I left the halfway house, I would lose my job, but I needed a
job to enter the coalition housing. I decided to call the coalition and talk
with them about my situation.
Right before Christmas, I got a call from the coalition. They told me they
believed in me. I was released from the halfway house in January 2013
and moved into my apartment in Marion with the coalition and have
lived there seven years.
Today, I am working part-time at the Southern Illinois Coalition for the
Homeless as an Intake Coordinator. I have worked there for ten months.
I will start school in the fall studying social work. I am currently looking
for affordable housing and will be transitioning out of the SICH housing
program into permanent housing in the community. I would like to work
full-time to help pay for my apartment.
My mom is my support, and I try to stay focused. I am responsible for
myself, although I fear failure and I am scared of success. I do not want
to be judged by others.
A goal I have in life is to be a motivational speaker. It is important to
form relationships to help when going through hard times. If I could tell
others a few things it would be to never become homeless or be without
a job. If life’s hardships do cause a
person to lose their home or job, try
to stay focused and not be afraid
to ask for help because there are
programs and people who are here to
help. I’m living proof.
people who are
here to help.
I’m living proof.”
This is my story.
I came from a big family of 17 brothers and sisters. My mom passed
away when I was seven years old. We were told she died of Toxemia from
having so many children. My dad died of a stroke shortly after, when I
was eight years old. My father was
“My mom passed
away when I was
seven years old...
My dad died of a
stroke shortly after.”
a member at the Moose Lodge. So
after he died, me and seven of my
siblings went to the Mooseheart
orphanage located between
North Aurora and Batavia. I was
at Mooseheart from September
1960–1970, ten years.
I left Mooseheart orphanage to go
to Indiana Westville Mental Institution. I stayed here from September
1970 through May 1971 and then left to go to another orphanage in
Nappanee, Indiana called Bashor Children’s Home. I ran away from
Bashor. After being found, I was sent to yet another orphanage called
Christian Haven, in Wheatfield, Indiana. I stayed here until May 1972,
and I graduated from Kankakee Valley High School.
Once school got out, I was asked by my “house parents” to go work on
a farm in Snyder, Colorado. This was a town of 200, a farm community.
I stayed and worked on the farm until September and then was
encouraged to attend Grace College back in Indiana. I stayed for about
one month before running away, and when I was found by social
workers, I was put back into Christian Haven Orphanage. I stayed at the
orphanage until I turned 21 years old, when I was let go and no longer a
ward of the state.
After turning 21 years old, I hitchhiked to Valparaiso, Indiana. I found
a job at a department store and found a room to stay in. This lasted for
about five months before I was let go. I took a bus to Aurora, Illinois and
was put into a mental institution, called Mercyville. I had to stay here for
a few months. After being discharged, I stayed at the YMCA for a short
time, until a staff member advised police I was unstable and I was sent to
Elgin State Mental Hospital, where I stayed until Spring 1974.
After being released, I went to back Valparaiso, Indiana and first found a
job as a dishwasher at a restaurant called Johnny Boys. After that, I found
a job at a grocery store, National Food Store, and worked there for two
years as a bagger. I then transferred to another grocery store, Costas, and
worked there for two years as a bagger. This was a Christian grocery store
that was closed on Sundays. After Costas, I worked at Eagles Grocery
store, but that didn’t work out. I found myself without a place to stay
again, so I went back to Snyder, Colorado to work on the farm again.
Eventually, I returned to Valparaiso, Indiana and worked different
jobs such as dishwasher, delivering pizzas, and a cab driver. In 1991, I
hitchhiked from Indiana to California. On the way, I was able to stay in
church hallways and police station lobbies overnight. I also had to stay
outside. On occasion, the police
would even pay for a hotel room for
Once I got to Sacramento, I stayed
at the Rescue Mission for a couple
months. Some good Christian
friends purchased a bus ticket
for me to get to Orlando, Florida,
where I was given a job as a
highway worker for a short time.
But eventually, I found myself
hitchhiking back to California and
returning to the Rescue Mission.
“I was able to stay
in church hallways
and police station
I also had to
I stayed at the Sacramento Rescue Mission for some time before deciding
to hitchhike to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There, I stayed at a homeless shelter
for only one month, as this is all they would allow. I only worked one day
in Cedar Rapids, laying sod. I then hitchhiked back to Aurora, Illinois
and stayed here for five years. I worked at Wendy’s for two of those years
and I rang bells for Salvation Army all five years.
I left Aurora to go to Sandusky, Ohio for a job at Cedar Point, an
amusement park. I worked there for two years and then moved to
Rockford, Illinois in February 1997. I rang bells in Rockford and church
ministers always gave me rides home. I stayed in a room off of Cherry
Street. I got a job at Kelly’s Market Mobil and I worked there until July
2014 (for 16 years).
I found myself homeless several times during those 16 years, due to
not having enough funds for housing. I slept outside on bus benches.
I was eventually let go from Mobil due to not having any hours. I was
homeless. My sister, Gay, came to get me and took me to South Bend,
Indiana to stay and visit with her and my brother, Neil, for three weeks.
But I had to go back to Rockford and I was still roughing it outside.
Everett, a church worker from Salvation Army, took me to Carpenter’s
Place. I was put up in Travel Inn Hotel for three and a half weeks before
I was given my own apartment on November 18, 2014. No more staying
outside on Schnucks benches,
“I was given my
on November 18,
or motel rooms. I go to chapel
Monday through Friday. Every
now and then I get to go see my
brothers and sisters who live out of
state (I still have 13 living siblings).
I also attend Salvation Army
Church every Sunday.
I felt I was watched over and
protected throughout my journey. I volunteer at Carpenter’s Place pretty
much every chance I get. I kept hearing the word from the preachers and
just kept going. I listen to Christian Radio Stations more and more. I feel
like I have changed a lot, but I’m on the right path. I want to keep going
and share my story with others. God never gives up on anyone. Keep
Mt. Vernon workshop
can happen to
anyone, at any
The path to homelessness is one that most of us think we will never be
on—but I’m here to tell you it is a path that any of us can end up on.
I ended up on that path in Southern Illinois soon after I arrived here,
leaving a bad relationship. I could not stay with my daughter and risk
putting my granddaughter in danger. I ended up at the Women’s Center in
Carbondale for about three weeks. I am sorry to say that I ended up having
to leave due to a personal verbal attack by an employee of the center.
Fortunately, I had already contacted
Southern Illinois Coalition for the
Homeless. I was blessed that they had
an apartment available in Harrisburg,
a small town in Saline County. They
got me in an apartment in record
time. The coalition saved me, not only
securing housing, but they provided
furniture, but things like a coffee pot,
“I could not stay
with my daughter
and risk putting
silverware. They offer counseling and match you up with other programs
that you may qualify for.
Being homeless leads to so many other negative situations. With no
address, a job is next to impossible to obtain. How do you bathe, wash
clothes? With no job, how do you obtain an apartment? Many landlords
will not even consider you. How do you stay on medication? So many have
to do without critical medicine. So many of those meds are psych meds,
insulin, heart meds, and so many other life-saving medications.
So many—too many—see someone who is homeless and automatically
think, “Bum, get a job,” and many other negative assumptions. Being
homeless is a horrible experience. It is an embarrassing, soul-crushing,
and hopeless situation to be in. It isn’t just men, as so many assume. It is
women with children trying to get out of abusive situations, it is families,
young people, and senior citizens who
“It is women with
children trying to
get out of abusive
situations, it is
people, and senior
citizens who cannot
or do not make
enough money to
keep a home.”
cannot or do not make enough money to
keep a home.
It is such a blessing that there are programs
such as Southern Illinois Coalition for
the Homeless and many others. I was
fortunate that I found the coalition so
quickly and that they had an apartment
available. But there are countless others
who are not so fortunate, who remain in
horrible, soul-crushing situations.
And yes, there are some who have mental
illness who cannot stay on meds. And
some who may be addicts or alcoholics, who may have been released from
a hospitalization or incarceration. There are the lost, the hopeless. There
are the good, the bad, and those who are struggling to keep their heads
If you say “Not me, not my family,” don’t be so sure. It is amazing just how
many people in this country are actually two or three skipped paychecks,
or just one illness, away from being homeless.
It can happen to anyone, at any time. Never say never. It happened to me,
and trust me, it could happen to you.
Mt. Vernon workshop
“You never know
how strong you
are until having
to be strong is
the only choice
I was kicked out of my parents’ house when I was sixteen. I ended up with
the neighborhood dope dealer. I didn’t realize that he was a drug dealer at
first, but it was too late, I had already fell in love with him. The reason my
parents kicked me out was because they knew what he was doing, and they
didn’t want me to be with him. My parents had ten children, and I was the
better of the ten. I played sports, I was making good grades in school. My
mom was really sick, she was an alcoholic, and I took care of her.
He was already on probation, and he went to prison for two years. I
waited for him, and I lived with his parents, and I helped care for his three
children. I graduated when I was eighteen, and he got out of prison. He
was home a month. He became very
abusive. I still stayed because it was
better than being at my mom’s house.
My mom was an alcoholic, and she
didn’t really care for me much.
Then, when we were in Cape
Girardeau, he was caught with a meth
lab in the trunk of the car. I took the
blame—I wrote a statement against
“He became very
abusive. I still stayed
because it was better
than being at my
myself. That was the first drug charge I ever received. He went back to
prison, and I waited for him again. He’d come home, he wasn’t home two
days, and he beat the crap out of me. We moved around a lot, because he
was on drugs.
It was 2003 when I came home from jail, and he was still in prison. I
became a manager at McDonald’s. I worked until he came home, and
we tried to have our first daughter. It took us two years. I finally became
pregnant, and he made me quit my job. Then he continued to do drugs and
hang out with bad people. He would cheat on me and beat on me and he
was always gone. He’d always have different women because they bought
him Sudafed. He asked me, too. I figured it would make our relationship
stronger, so I purchased Sudafed.
We were together eight years. We were married for only one of the eight.
He cheated on me with my sister and he got the 17-year-old babysitter
pregnant, so I decided to leave him. When I left him, I didn’t realize he’d
been being watched by the federal government. They waited until my
divorce was final, because in the state of Illinois, they don’t make you
testify against your husband. When they went to serve him his federal
indictment, he went on the run with his brother, and when my divorce
was final, they indicted me. On June 7, 2011. I went to federal prison for
I remember praying to God when I was there, if you just let my daughters
be alive when I get home. I just wanted them to be alive, and I would
do my best to help even just one person. I was gone for two years. I let
my daughters go live with my brother, because I thought he was a good
guy, and he was always good to his kids. He had three sons, I have two
daughters. And I remember telling my sister-in-law multiple times—I
called them from prison—please don’t leave my kids with your son while
“I remember praying
to God when I was
there, if you just let
my daughters be alive
when I get home.”
you go to Walmart. Please don’t
leave my kids with your son while
you go down the road.
Well, I got a phone call on June 15
of 2013 that my nephew had been
molesting my daughters. So my
kids were moved back to Illinois.
I got released from federal prison May 21 of 2014. My daughters were six
and seven. I got a job at a dry cleaner and I was in a halfway house for six
months. I applied and applied and applied for housing, but because of my
charge, nobody would give me public housing.
Finally, I was referred to the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless,
and Dori did my intake. She’s one of my case managers. And they gave me
a home. On November 17, 2016, I moved my daughters into an apartment,
and I’ve lived in Marion since then. I take care of my kids by myself.
And I just want to give other people hope, because, I mean, five years—I
started over with nothing. And me and my daughters are doing great. I
go to school, I work two jobs, and
I take care of them, and neither
grandparents have anything to do
with my kids.
“I just want to give other
people hope, because, I
mean, five years—
I started over with nothing.
And me and my daughters
are doing great.”
I am going to school for nursing,
and it’s no guarantee that I’ll be
able to get a position, because I am
a felon, and it’s a drug charge. But
I’m going to it on just pure faith,
because they do have felony waivers. But it’s a process. I am in the LPN
program at John A. Logan Community College, and I am on the Student
Advisory Board. I plan to graduate with an Associate of Arts within a
year and have my LPN Certificate in two years. Then I will continue my
education to obtain my Registered Nursing degree.
Thank God for the coalition. If it was not for the help of the Southern
Illinois Coalition for the Homeless, I don’t know where I would be. I
have had a few emotional setbacks with my family, but I continue to push
forward despite what is thrown at me.
Never give up no matter how hard it
gets, keep pushing. There is light at
the end of the tunnel. You may not see
the light right away, that is why I keep
pushing because it is there. You never
know how strong you are until having
to be strong is the only choice you have.
Holly and Aaron in Mt. Vernon
is not an
A lot of people would describe me as a strong, fun, and outgoing person.
To look at me, you would never think I was once homeless. But one thing
for sure, I am proud of the journey that brought me where I stand today
and I am happy to share it with you.
I start advocating before even being homeless. Since I was 25 years old,
I started visiting different homeless communities. I listened to their
stories, thoughts, and feelings, never imagining one day I would be one
of them. I just felt drawn to them and wonder why to some people they
are just a burden when in reality no one is born without a roof over their
Now, I am here to tell you how I became homeless and why I couldn’t
find a home for 16 years.
Before everything started, I had a difficult childhood. My father changed
from job to job, there was always fighting, alcohol, and gambling.
Nevertheless, our mother always managed to have food on the table and
clothes in our closets for me and my eight siblings. She always spoke
good about our father and told us to never speak badly about him.
Throughout my early life, I felt a constant level of sadness and anger, and
for too long, I didn’t realize it was depression. These daily feelings told
me that I wasn’t worth investing in, so I dropped out of High School,
quit my job and found myself with the wrong people. I was immersed
in a cycle of poverty and depression that took me to dark places where I
couldn’t support my children or myself.
I had only two things that helped me cope: alcohol and drugs. I could
drink the whole day while seeing myself repeating the same mistakes my
father did on me, to my own children.
Everything got worsened by the
homelessness and the lack of access to
resources needed to recover myself. I
didn’t have the information of what
organizations could help me, didn’t
know how to spend my money correctly
or speak honestly with my family. Even
though they knew what was going
on, I didn’t know how to accept their
support because I felt ashamed.
“After three weeks
in the hospital, my
doctor asked me
if I was homeless.
That question would
be the first step to
my new life.”
After 16 years of going from friends, family, and stranger’s houses, in
addition to drugs abusive, mental disorders, and other health problems, I
found myself in the hospital fighting for my life. After three weeks in the
hospital, my doctor asked me if I was homeless. That question would be
the first step to my new life. I know now that most of the people are never
asked for their personal situation, and I think of him as my savior.
He connected me to a place
called Interfaith where I found
support and felt like I was part
of a community. As I made true
friends in the organization, my
mind was free from the alcohol
and drugs. With movies, they
show us the reality on the
streets, and I could face my
anger issues with the help of a
Laura bringing home leftover sandwiches to
share with neighbors and friends
psychologist. Our conversations were a reality check of what was going
inside my mind. After a year of participating in their program, the
organization helped me to figure out what benefits I qualify for and how
to apply for housing in Thresholds.
My first apartment was a studio, I didn’t feel trapped, I had a room, a
kitchen, a big TV where I could watch my movies and a bathroom for
myself. I had my own place to rest, a place of silence. I felt secure and
grateful for the twelve years I lived in the apartment.
Furthermore, I got the chance to work with them as a desk clerk for ten
years where I felt happy and became part of their family as we celebrated
special occasions together and
“Now, I have my own
apartment where I
can sleep peacefully,
who I am now.”
supported each other. The staff
cares about us, and we care about
them more like a family than staff.
The atmosphere was healthy and
full of spirit as we were too busy
Now, I have my own apartment
where I can sleep peacefully,
refreshingly, knowing who I am
now. Thankful for my journey and prepare to give advice to people that
are in my same situation.
After my 70 years of experience, I know I still got a lot to give. But there
have to be right people that are willing to listen, open their heart to
changes, and understand that homelessness is not an individual failure.
However, if we do not give this a priority, we are going to fail as a society.
Chicago workshop participants
Breaking the Cycle of Generational Domestic Violence with Family
My name is Marketta Sims, born May 15, 1980. I lost my mom in 1994,
November 24. She passed away from carbon monoxide poison so her
funeral was closed casket. I lived with my toxic auntie and cousins.
I had to grow up fast and earned adult responsibility before time, which
in turn overwhelmed me to lose myself. I ended up with 13 years in the
penal institution. Throughout that trial and error, I graduated four times.
When I came home to regain my
stability my auntie and cousin was still
toxic. I ended up homeless in order to
renew myself and identity. With great
sacrifices come great accomplishments.
“I had to grow
I broke the cycle of toxic family by removing myself and creating a new
“As I met new
their stories, I
I was not alone.”
I am here today to advocate for homeless people.
For you to understand why I found myself homeless at one time in my life,
you must first understand my upbringing. For me, childhood is not the
happy picture that it is for most people. The adults in my life did not show
unconditional love. Living under the same roof as my stepfather meant
that even at the age of six I had to work. I was kept busy with household
chores, working like a slave while my peers were out playing, even while
my step-siblings were free to be kids. My mother let this happen, and if it
bothered her, she didn’t show it.
Without the love and compassion of the adults in my life, I would
experience depression, and eventually be hospitalized for suicidal
tendencies in adolescence. Cocaine came into my life at this time, too, and
I had been introduced to alcohol as early as four years old.
I first became homeless when I was 16. I had stopped going to school, and
my mother’s boyfriend said that if I wasn’t going to go to school and didn’t
have a job, I couldn’t live with them. I lived with friends from school until
I turned 18. I got my GED, and then I got my Associates at Suomi College
for social work.
Through a friend, I began working at a carnival. Then I went to work
for Astro Amusements and traveled the country: I went to Tennessee,
Georgia, Florida, and the Cayman Islands. Some of the rides I worked on
are Rok’n’Rol, Orbiter, High Roller, and the Amor Express Himalaya. I met
people from all over the United States. I liked being around other people at
the carnival, learning a skill, and I felt like I was a part of a community.
I left the road life of the carnival when my girlfriend became pregnant. I
would go on to work many different jobs over the next 11 years. I would be
married three times and have 4 children. Even though I am divorced from
their mothers, I am still a part of my children’s lives. I eventually went back
to work for a carnival, but after a disagreement with the boss, I left. This
was leaving a steady job and the place I lived most of the year. After my
divorce, I had no home to go back to. It was not easy to live on my own and
hold down a steady job due to my struggle with paranoid schizophrenia.
A week after leaving the carnival, I ended up in a hospital. I had reached a
point where I felt like I was gonna hurt myself, but I had the instinct to get
help. I stayed there for two months. There, I met a caseworker who would
connect me with a group home. I was glad to have a roof over my head, but
I felt penned in at group homes. I slept on a twin bed in a room I shared
with three or four other roommates. Oftentimes, there was little to do for
recreation. The homes did not have mental health services, only Alcoholics
But it was during this time that I would meet my first caseworker
from Thresholds. They helped me pay my $400 monthly rent using an
emergency fund. They tried to help me get my social security benefits, but
I was denied. I decided to leave this group home after they tried to pressure
me into taking a drug test, and I would not submit. I lost contact with
Thresholds, and I would look for shelter and care in hospitals for the next
two years, but would mostly have to live on the streets.
I was in seven different hospitals over
this two-year period. I would stay
in the hospitals anywhere from one
week to two months. They put me
on several different meds until they
found a mixture that worked for me.
“I was in seven
over this two-year
When I was in the hospital, I found out that I had type II diabetes and high
blood pressure. After learning about my diabetes, I quit drinking. They
also helped keep my mental illness in check. When I wasn’t staying at a
hospital, I would live anywhere I could. Sometimes this meant sleeping on
the El, the bus, or at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago.
To make some money, I started participating in research studies for mental
illness. Many of my peers need medication, but they are worried about side
“When I wasn’t staying
at a hospital, I would
live anywhere I could.
Sometimes this meant
sleeping on the El, the
bus, or at the Daley
Center in downtown
effects. I thought it was a chance to help
myself and other people. I spent anywhere
from two weeks to two months doing
inpatient research studies, or anywhere
from six months to a year for outpatient
research studies. To this day, I continue
to earn supplemental income from
participating in these studies.
When I was in the hospital doing an
inpatient research study, I met a guy named
Steve who was drying out from crack. He reintroduced me to Thresholds
and what services they had to offer to people with mental illness.
The Bridge Team of Thresholds helped me with several life-changing
services. First, they helped me reapply for social security benefits, and this
time I was approved. This allowed me to live full time at my own place,
instead of having to leave and go back to the hospital when I ran out of
money. I got a room of my own, and still do.
Then they got me connected to mental health services: this includes
medication, a psychiatrist, and weekly group therapy sessions that use
evidence-based methods. Group therapy was scary at first, but as I met new
people and began hearing their stories, I learned that there were people
worse off than me and that I was not alone. Supportive groups are offered
every day of the week at Thresholds, and some are even run by people who
have been through the Thresholds program.
I began to feel safer and more stable in my living situation, and I developed
friendships with others in my apartment building. I even started dating.
With these supports, I have now lived on my own for over ten years. That is
why I want to help spread the word on supportive housing.
again. That feels
so good, to be
able to dream.”
I’ve always said to myself, Lord, why am I going through all the crap that
I’m going through? And it came back to me: “I want you to be able to
identify with everyone. I want you to be able to say been there, done that.
And since I been there, done that, I can help show you the way out.”
I actually tried to commit suicide. My life was so low and so bad, I
couldn’t even get suicide right. And I’m so grateful now, because it
passed. I didn’t think that I had that capability of doing something like
that. So that was a rude awakening for me.
The reason is I had to deal with the death of my son. He was shot and
killed on the west side of Chicago. He called me two weeks before he got
killed. He said, “Dad? I’m about to be
a dad too, just like you! But I need help
because I don’t know how to be a dad.”
“Don’t worry, baby, I got you,” I said.
“You need to come out here with me,
first. Get off that west side of Chicago,
and we’ll buy a home. And I’ll pass it
“He called me two
weeks before he got
killed. He said, ‘Dad?
I’m about to be a dad,
too, just like you!’”
to you, and you’ll pass it to your child. And you’ve got a free babysitter.”
And he said great.
Two weeks later, he was dead. Shot multiple times to the body, and then
they finished it off by shooting him in the head. I had to identify that
But my son brought another baby into the world. I was gonna take care
of that child. He looked just like his father, and they named him after
But a couple of weeks later, the baby died. So I buried a son and a
grandson within six months’ time.
And my life just went downhill. I mean it
just spiraled out of control. I lost my job,
I lost my apartment. I just didn’t want to
“I buried a son and a
grandson within six
I didn’t know that I was clinically depressed. I had no clue. I’ve always
thought I was the captain of my ship. You know, the hero of the family.
And it took me to come to A.I.D. to be able to try to get back my life,
because I was in uncharted water and didn’t know how to deal with it.
I couldn’t go to my mother, because I had a mother that I loved, but I
didn’t like her. We didn’t see things eye to eye. I had to go to an outside
source to be able to get some help.
I feel like I’m on the right track now. And I love life, because I’m
dreaming again. That feels so good, to be able to dream. To be able to
make plans. I’m dreaming again.
I think I stood out being a single dad, but there’s a lot of us out there.
This is my story. I was sheltered all my life up until I was 17. I told
my stepmom that I was going to drop out of high school. At first, she
was cool with it, but two weeks later she came to me about going to
Job Corps. So, I decided to go. While I was at Job Corps, I found that
things were not the same as they had been when I was at home—there
were different people, with different personalities, views, and ideas. I
graduated in May of 2004 when I was 19 years old. That’s when bad
things happened. I became homeless for the first time; I could not find a
job in Cincinnati, Ohio.
My stepmom’s health was getting
worse, so I had to move back here
to Peoria, but I became homeless
because I didn’t know where to go.
My stepmom was sick and in the
hospital and my dad was staying at my
“I didn’t know where
to go. My stepmom
was sick and in the
hospital and my dad
was staying at my
I met this older guy that allowed me and another female to stay with
him. He ended up turning that house into a whore house. In the process
of all this, I met my daughter’s dad in the summer of 2005 and had my
daughter in 2006. Then I met my two sons’ dad while I was pregnant
with my daughter. I got with him when I was six months with my
daughter. It was the worst mistake of my life. He was very abusive
In 2007, I met my current fiancée, but the thing was we were living two
different lives. I was with my kid’s dad and he was with somebody else, so
we could not be together at this time. Then I had my first son, in March
of 2008. Then, in 2009, my daughter and oldest son got taken away by
DCFS because of domestic violence. DCFS told me that it was either him
or my kids, so I left him, but was unable to get my kids back right away.
My depression over this led me back to homeless again.
Then I made some more mistakes that made me go to IDOC. I came
home and got back with my abusive baby daddy. I got pregnant with my
youngest son, but I just got tired of the same thing.
On December 2, 2011, I left him, five months pregnant with my second
son. I went to a homeless shelter. I
“On December 2, 2011,
I left him, five months
pregnant with my
second son. I went to
a homeless shelter.”
fought for my kids, did everything
that DCFS asked me to do, except
for finding a place to stay, because
DCFS looks down on homeless
shelters, I felt I could not get them
back while I stayed there. Finally, I
ended up getting a job and finding
a place, and almost got them back.
But the phone sales job didn’t last.
I ended up losing my job and my place in 2015. I decided to give family
temporary custody of the kids. My family adopted them.
From 2015–2018 I stayed in a tent with my fiancée. He is now working
at Embassy Suites. We have been in our Permanent Supportive Housing
apartment since July of 2018, and I am currently enrolled in computer
classes at Goodwill Industries.
I’ve been homeless since I was a
sophomore in high school. My mother
and I did not always have the best
relationship. So when she asked me to
leave her home when I was a sophomore, it drove me to want to prove
her wrong, that she didn’t have control over my life, and I wasn’t going to
allow her to have control over my life anymore.
I put myself through high school. I was working. I got myself down to
two classes my senior year so I had time to work. Once I graduated, I left
my tickets at the box for my mother if she wanted to come. And—she
came! She brought my little sister and my older brother, he was in the
military and then was out. He surprised me, and I cried when I saw him.
After I graduated, I tried to reconnect with my mother, and it didn’t work
out. It just made things worse. I moved to Tennessee and I tried to start
my life over. I was in school while I was down there, I was working a fulltime
job, and I was making it happen. I thought that if I tried to work
with her some more, there would be this relationship. And it just didn’t
work out. It still just didn’t work out. I keep praying on it, I keep asking, I
keep trying to make it work.
Then I got into a car accident and my life crumbled around me. I lost
my job. Once I lost my job, I couldn’t go to school anymore, because I
couldn’t pay to get back and forth. And then I lost my apartment. Once I
lost my apartment, I put myself in a position where I was doing things to
make ends meet for myself. I tried to come back to Indianapolis to make
up with my mother. It was Mother’s Day. She sat down and met with me,
and she told me that a woman is always supposed to do for herself, she
shouldn’t need for someone else to be there for her.
So I came here. I came here looking for my father’s side of the family, and
I was introduced to the Emergence Program. Through them, I was able
to find some of my relatives, and things started looking up. I was able to
find some of my relatives, who I now stay with.
I will be going back to school this coming fall. I’m going to make it happen.
“I will be going back
to school this coming
fall. I’m going to
make it happen.”
Our thanks, first and foremost, to the individuals who joined our
workshops and shared their stories. We are grateful to those who share
their experiences in the pages of this publication, helping us to continue
learning from each other.
This project would not have been possible without funding from the
Illinois Charitable Trust Stabilization Fund. Thank you for supporting
Finally, our thanks to all the residents in permanent supportive housing
in Illinois, as well as the staff who make permanent supportive housing
programs possible. Together, we are getting closer to ending chronic
Jennifer M. Orban
HOUSING ACTION ILLINOIS
SUPPORTIVE HOUSING PROVIDERS ASSOCIATION
SHPA is a statewide (Illinois) grassroots coalition of 90+ nonprofits
providing supportive housing (affordable housing plus services) to
extremely-low and low-income individuals and families experiencing
homelessness and persons/families with disabilities. SHPA works to knit
together its members, including member organizations and member
residents of supportive housing, into a strong state and federal advocacy
voice for supportive housing resources and policies. SHPA strongly
believes in advocacy from those with lived experiences of homelessness
and/or persons with disabilities who reside in supportive housing. The
authenticity of their personal stories weigh more in the battle to ending
Learn more at www.shpa-il.org.
HOUSING ACTION ILLINOIS
Housing Action Illinois has led the movement to expand and protect
affordable housing and end homelessness in Illinois for more than 30
years. As a statewide coalition, we bring together more than 160 member
organizations that include housing counseling agencies and developers,
homeless service providers and government workers, lenders and
policymakers, and advocates and community organizers. By advocating
for better policies, training member organizations, and spearheading
statewide collaboration, we are creating an Illinois where everyone is able
to rent or buy a good home.
Learn more at www.housingactionil.org.
O U R T H A N K S T O T H E
I L L I N O I S C H A R I T A B L E T R U S T S T A B I L I Z A T I O N F U N D
I WANT TO SHARE MY STORY TO
help someone in need
be of help or encouragement to others and myself
help others who are going through hardships know that they're not alone
help someone else in the same situation
help at least one person
share the resources we have
prevent it from happening to someone else