From Homelessness to Home: One Man’s Complicated Journey to Get Himself an Apartment!

I’ll call him Craig; it’s not his real name, but the story is real….

I write this to demystify the myths that getting an apartment is as simple as focusing on the dream and showing a little bit of determination. It’s not as simple as choosing and buying a slice of cake; Craig had the dream and was very determined. 

Craig ended up homeless because he needed knee surgery. The injury had caused him to lose his job, he didn’t have any health insurance and he couldn’t afford his rent. Eventually, he came to us balancing himself on his two crutches. He stayed at Epworth Shelter for a very short stint, before we moved him into our program for men over 50. Craig was only 48 at the time, but his immobility and continual pain-factor was a serious issue. 

Craig was faithfully attending his AA meetings, doing his mandated exercises, seeing doctors, meeting with Public Aid, he had also applied for SSDI and had lawyers that were helping him. He wanted to work again, but his body wasn’t having the same thoughts. Soon he had a medical card and started receiving $100 a month (via P3*). P3 is what one receives when someone has SSI pending!

He was working well with us at CCO. We set up appointments, gave him CTA passes and he faithfully went. He met with the outreach workers who came to assist our residents. He tried some job training endeavors, but couldn't fulfill them due to his health concerns. Craig just kept on trying and it was getting unbearable for him. His frustration and anger level had started to peak.

Craig had been living with us at CCO for over a year; he was still without a livable income, incapable of holding or getting a job and had his name of many housing lists. He had met everyone he should meet and he simply had to live at the slow pace all these factors set for him. He had to wait, wait, wait, and he didn’t like that. He was tired of being homeless and wanted his own place.

Due to an anxiety attack and chest pains he ended up leaving CCO and living in a Rehabilitation Center for a very short while. 

The following year saw many events stack up in his fragile life. Not in this exact order and without getting into all the details, but Craig experienced all these things. Don’t get too overwhelmed or exhausted reading this list; He started drinking again, went to detox a few times, and tried inpatient treatment twice. His depression reared its ugly head, he became very suicidal and ended up in a mental health hospital a couple times. He had 2 heart attacks, went to Stroger Hospital both times and one of these times ended up in a shelter that helps those recovering from health issues. Throughout all this, he slept in many different places; rotating from O’Hare Airport, to parks, to our shelter, to hotels, to other shelters, to wherever he could lay his weary head. That was his life, as he continually tried to keep his appointments and find housing; as he just tried to survive.

A couple years after I first encountered Craig, hope was finally visible. A few outreach workers, case-managers and I had been wrapping our minds around his ongoing saga and dilemma for too long. We had advocated for him, fought for him and wrestled with the system, and finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

In the middle of June 2011, Craig wanders in with a smile on his face to tell us he’ll be housed in July. All that effort and those appointments saw fruition. All the networking between CCO and many other social service agencies was going to see this chronically homeless man housed. It was finally happening.

A slight glitz reveals itself, on June 28th; the bureaucratic machine sent all people receiving P3 or General Assistance a letter: “due to the economic climate, starting July 1st, you will no longer receive $100!” (Yes! I was horrified, angered and saddened when a group my older, more fragile clients brought me letters revealing how what little they have is now being taken away!)

July happened. It was the second week of the month. Craig came in with another big smile on his face. Smiles like these represent a lot, because Craig is a man who doesn’t smile very often. He shows me his keys. He had his place, his subsidized place, where he only pays $20 a month! Now remember; he has no income!

Craig no longer has to live in the hustle and bustle of being homeless. Every night, he has a place to go and rest his weary bones. One day, (I pray it’ll be soon), he’ll get his SSDI, making him able to buy his own food and live totally self-sufficient again.
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