Chicago House and Social Service agency serves individuals and families who are disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ marginalization, poverty, homelessness, and/or gender nonconformity by providing housing, employment services, medical linkage and retention services, HIV prevention services, legal services and other supportive programs.
In the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US, nearly 100 activists met at the historic Baton Show Lounge to address the dire need for housing for Chicagoans living with AIDS. On September 9, 1985, Chicago House was incorporated in Illinois as a not-for-profit with the goal of providing housing for those with AIDS.
During the 1980s, Chicago House emerged as an organization providing a compassionate response to a fearful disease. We built our infrastructure as we established several facilities to meet the growing and ever-evolving needs of our clients. Our first residence, opened in February 1986 in Uptown, accommodated eight individuals in private bedrooms with shared cooking, dining, bathing, and living areas. We opened two more residences in 1987 and, responding to demand, a 24-hour care program and hospice in 1988 for clients in need of additional support. In 1992, Chicago House formed the Family Support Program, becoming the first provider of housing and related services to HIV-affected families.
Before advances in HIV medication, these early years often meant that we were providing our clients a place to die with dignity after they had been abandoned by friends and family or forced out of their apartments. An early agency newsletter from 1986 reads, “Through May 15, 1987, Chicago House has provided a home for 28 individuals, all men…. Of the 17 men no longer with Chicago House, 10 are deceased. ” In these early years, Chicago House was the last home many people had before they died.
The latter half of the 1990’s, however, ushered in new hope as medical advances came to the fore with the advent of new drug therapies. As drug advances and approvals began to dominate the news in the AIDS community, increased hope was also somewhat tempered by the reality that the annual cost of drug therapy could easily exceed $20,000 per person.
In 2000, the annual AIDS death toll in the United States dropped to 17,741 after it had peaked in 1995 at over 48,000. Many people with HIV/AIDS found themselves getting better and were confronted with the reality that they now faced rebuilding their lives while living with HIV rather than preparing to die. In 1997, we bought the building that would house our Independent Living Program, responding to the need that many of those living with HIV/AIDS presented – to live in a more independent supportive housing program.
Then, in 1999, after experiencing empty beds in our hospice facility and increased demand in our other housing programs, Chicago House made the difficult decision to close down the hospice. Chicago House’s hospice provided essential and compassionate care to over 400 people. In the four housing facilities that we currently operate, Chicago House now provides permanent supportive housing to more than 100 people each year. We also provide these residents, along with those living independently in the community, with vital case management services.
In 2004, Chicago House became the lead agency on a 5-year project funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Running this program, Chicago House helped our HIV-positive clients reach out and protect their peers and partners from infection. Chicago House continues to run a CDC-funded Prevention With Positives intervention that, in 2013, reached 110 people.
Also in 2004, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin visited Chicago House to learn more about our programs and the needs of our clients. The residents he met with expressed their desire to return to work, but explained the major obstacles that they faced. After listening to their concerns and the efforts of the agency, Senator Durbin helped facilitate a start-up grant to support the initial development and implementation of an HIV employment service system, which became our Employment Services Program. The program launched in the fall of 2005 with much support from leaders in the HIV and workforce development community and, since its inception, has served nearly 1,000 participants.
In 2006, Chicago House began its Scattered-Site Housing Program, which provides rental assistance and support services to clients. Initially offering 18 apartment units connecting people to housing and employment services, the Scattered-Site Housing Program now manages about 150 units each year.
2013 was another momentous year for Chicago House as we officially launched the TransLife Center (TLC), responding to the great need for culturally-competent, expert social services specifically for transgender individuals. In the same facility that we once used as a hospice in the early years of the HIV epidemic, we now deliver housing, employment, linkage-to-medical care, case management, and legal services. With community partners, we are currently leading a 5-year Special Project of National Significance funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration to study the link between HIV and retention in care in transgender women of color.