Homes for Heroes!

A few decades ago, some followers of Jesus saw the desperate need in their neighborhood and wanted to live out His basic command to "love your neighbors as yourself". This group was a young community of Christians, called Jesus People USA, who lived in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood and were surrounded by a lot of poverty and people experiencing homelessness. The members of JPUSA couldn't ignore the plight that surrounded them and Jesus' radical parable of the "Sheep and the Goats", so they opened their doors and their hearts, by providing meals to eat, food bags to take with them, clothes to wear, blankets to keep them warm and beds to sleep in.
About 40 years later, there's been many changes, but our mission remains the same; we are still trying to bring Kingdom Love into our Uptown neighborhood. This grass-roots ministry has transformed from our humble beginnings into now running a large homeless shelter, called Cornerstone Community Outreach, which now shelters over 400 men, women and children on any given night. We have also transformed from operating out of our own home to now having separate buildings which helps us offer more services. We have also transformed from just meeting the vital immediate needs to now offering holistic wrap-around services as well. Over the years, knowing we couldn't do it on our own, we also began networking and collaborating with numerous agencies and ministries, making long-term change and housing a greater and real possibility.  

Even though we have grown and have seen all these transformations, we still believe that each person or family that enters our doors is precious in the sight of the Lord. We hold dearly the words of Jesus, who tells us to elevate the "least of these" and give them "seats of honor" at the banquet table. When Jesus proclaimed that the "first shall be last, and the last, first", we recognize that each and every person, whether they live in our shelter, live under a local viaduct or come over to receive a food bag is a vital and important person in the Kingdom of God and needs to be given the respect and honor of a hero. 

Over the decades, we've been touched by countless heroes; women, men and families who have shown us how to live a life of love, faith, resilience, perseverance, courage and hope, despite all the suffering they've endured. We call them heroes because every person we encounter through CCO has a remarkable story to tell, every person has had to face countless hardships, and yet they persevere and to continue to seek the One who can set them free. Even though we live in a world that elevates the rich, powerful and famous, while criminalizing and degrading those in jail and experiencing homelessness, Jesus turns everything upside down and tells us a very different story, He proclaims that His Kingdom is for the poor and they are nothing short of heroes! 

Apart from our obvious mission to bring the love of Jesus to the poor in our neighborhood, we have another lofty goal; to help these heroes find homes they can call their own. If they come to us as homeless, we want them to leave us, permanently housed! We've been honored to see this successful movement happening, but we know, we can't do it on our own; we need others and that's why we network with many other agencies and ministries. Through these collaborations, we love posting photos and stories on our websites of our friends holding their keys, symbolizing how they have successfully moved from being homeless into their own homes.

One ministry we network with is called The Bridge; every Tuesday evening, they hold an amazing Church service on the Westside of Chicago for people facing similar struggles. They have a huge emphasis on connecting with those who've been "behind bars" and have struggled with homelessness. Every week, 3 pastors from all over the greater Chicago area, come and deliver a 10 minute message, responding to a specific question and challenging everyone who comes to know they're loved and move forward in their faith. One of JPUSA's pastors and well known musician, Glenn Kaiser, and The Bridge team have come together to raise money for CCO, by putting together an album called "Homes for Heroes". Glenn and friends are singing "old hymns and new songs" in their own distinct way, please click the link here, listen to some fantastic music and donate to the good work being done at Cornerstone Community Outreach.

At CCO, the chaos never ends. Every week, we face new and unique challenges, where we plan to meet each individual with the love of Jesus and work towards assisting each person get a home. We realize each person is unique and different, and therefore, we try to assess each person with the respect and honor they deserve.

Francis just turned 84, he is a Korean War veteran who came to us without an ID or income, he now has both, which has created a new opportunity to meet his next goal: permanent housing! Ronnie just returned from another stint in prison, so we'll be attempting to help him get his documents, make his appointments, stay sober, get an income and eventually successfully move into housing. Kelly is a Vietnam veteran who was just evicted, but because of an ongoing mental illness, we are helping him by being his advocate, supplying him with transportation and taking him to his appointments, making sure he'll get into subsidized housing as soon as possible.

The stories never end at CCO, on Friday, a newly homeless 18 year old male entered our doors, followed by a couple with 4 young children, only to be followed by a fragile 70 year old lady, assisted by a walker. Each and every one of them is unique and needs to be assisted in different ways; whether it's getting a job, receiving a pension, attending daycare or starting training. In a world void of hope, our goal to offer them fresh hope, an ability to move forward and let them know how vitally important they truly are. No matter the background, or how they're viewed today, our goal is to help these heroes find a home!

Even though there's many tear-jerking stories rising out of CCO, we cannot forget the countless stories of hope that keep rising out of the ashes. Daniel came to us from prison and without an income, and after a year of faithfully keeping his appointments, he left us with an income and has now been successfully housed for about 4 years. Tommy, a Vietnam veteran, came to us after being homeless for 30 long years, he now receives benefits and has moved in permanent supportive housing. Due to some health issues, Clara struggled to stay employed and therefore ended up homeless, she came to us, found another job and eventually moved into her own apartment a couple weeks ago. 

We pray that we'll keep seeing these stories of hope and celebration rise out of CCO. We want to keep sharing the love of Jesus to our neighbors and assist these heroes find themselves a home!

For more information, check out.....

* not their real names *

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