By Adolfo Luna
Twenty-eight year old Alicia, a transgender woman of color, used to spend her nights on CTA trains to avoid the harsh Chicago winter. One night, while warming up with hot cocoa provided by the Night Ministry’s street outreach van, she met a Chicago House Outreach Worker. With the help of the Outreach Worker, Alicia was connected to housing through Chicago House’s Providing Alternative Transitions to Housing (Pathways) Program. Over the course of 2015, Chicago House hopes to enroll 50 highly vulnerable street homeless persons living with HIV/AIDS into the Pathways Program.
In late 2014, Chicago House received funding from the Chicago Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) HIV/AIDS Housing Program and the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program to continue the Pathways Program. Pathways seeks to address the specific housing needs of people living with HIV/AIDS by implementing effective strategies to prevent homelessness and facilitate access to a range of needed treatment and supportive services.
During her time in the program, Alicia built a better relationship with her medical provider, attended her doctor’s appointments regularly, and even started adhering to her HIV medications. She was also linked to Chicago House’s employment program, where Alicia has progressed from unemployment to her current full-time position at a large non-profit organization. The Pathways Outreach Worker has now helped guide Alicia through her third year in Chicago House’s Gaining Ground program, from which she is expected to graduate this year to take over her own lease. According to Alicia’s Outreach Worker, “All it took were simple things like bus cards and a willingness to sit down and listen to get this successful outcome.”
Continued HOPWA funding will allow Chicago House to expand the Pathways Program. A larger amount of time can now be put towards reaching highly vulnerable individuals, specifically those who are currently living with HIV and experiencing street homelessness or sleeping in shelters. A candidate for the program might be identified through a referral from a partner community based organization or through Chicago’s Central Referral System (CRS), a centralized database of homeless individuals. Once an eligible person is identified, a Pathways Outreach Worker will assist them in overcoming barriers to housing so they can one day take over their own lease, just as Alicia soon will.