By Jerico Bleu
Who doesn’t look forward to the end of the year? It’s a time for us to put aside our day-to-day and enjoy the company of friends and family. It’s a time to practice gratitude and to share it with others. And it’s a time meant to remind ourselves of what’s most important in our lives: joy and laughter. In other words, it’s a chance for us to cultivate unity. It’s no secret. We all know that it’s better to give than to receive. So this year Mercy Street Theatre Company is starting a new tradition in hopes of raising public awareness and respect to members of the trans community. As you may know, our upcoming show Merry Christmas, Mulch Pile! will be produced in partnership with Chicago House, an organization dedicated to serving disenfranchised individuals and families in the LGBTQ community. To shed light on their experience, Chicago House has graciously shared with us client success stories and a bit of their history. Please take some time to read these amazing stories featured below. And show your support by joining us Dec 3 - 6 at Hairpin Arts Center for Merry Christmas, Mulch Pile!
“Eric” is a 23-year-old, HIV-negative, African American and identifies as Trans Masculine. Eric has a history of substance abuse and mental health issues. He had previously received services from Chicago House but had been disengaged from services for many months. When he reengaged with Chicago House he was not receiving services for his substance abuse and mental health needs. Eric initially connected with the TransWorks Employment Program through our weekly Job Club at the Center on Halsted. Once he began attending Job Club gatherings, Eric began to meet regularly with a TransWorks career specialist. After working weekly with his career specialist and attending TransWorks workshops, Eric was able to obtain employment at two separate placements. One position is in retail and the other is in the pet-care industry. As a result of becoming steadily employed, he has been able to maintain stable housing in a rental unit on the west side of Chicago. With the support of TransLife Center staff, Eric also re-engaged in ongoing mental health services and participates in TLC support groups. Eric continues to meet weekly with their career specialist and is currently exploring options for returning to school.
The success of the Family Support Program is best understood through the stories of our clients. "Sokoni," a refugee from Central Africa, is a single father who has full custody of two young children. Upon arriving to the USA, Sokoni struggled with alcohol abuse and PTSD, and eventually the family lost their housing and became homeless. After three years of living in a homeless shelter, Sokoni and his children moved into the Family Support Program. Upon receiving his keys to his new housing, he fell to his knees and began crying from relief. He has received extensive support from FSP's Case Manager and Family Counselor, and was connected to ESL courses at a local community college, healthcare, legal services, and Chicago House's Employment Program. His adherence to his HIV medical appointments has also improved within the past six months. Additionally, the Family Counselor has provided family therapy to Sokoni and his children to address the children's social-emotional issues. The children were enrolled in the on-site afterschool tutoring program. Through daily participation in tutoring (five days per week), the children have already improved their grades. After just six months of living in the program, Sokoni's family has demonstrated significant improvement in outcomes in education, health, and mental health. Our staff look forward to providing continued intensive support to this family to ensure that they maintain stability and wellness.
“Justin” came to Chicago House three years ago for support. For his entire adult life, Justin held steady jobs and maintained stable housing. However, things took a turn for the worst when he discovered he was HIV-positive. Due to the challenges of living with HIV, Justin lost his job and his home to foreclosure. His HIV diagnosis also created a strain on many of his relationships with friends and family, which left him with little social supports. Determined to get his life back on track, Justin reached out to our Chicago House Employment Program and participated in our jobs skills training workshops. He was also referred to the Gaining Ground program, where he received supportive housing through a monthly rental subsidy program. With intensive one-on-one support from his Employment Program career specialist and stable housing, Justin was able to secure full-time employment at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. In addition to achieving employment, Justin graduated from the Gaining Ground program and has successfully transitioned to living independently. Since he proved himself to be a reliable tenant, Justin was able to stay in his current apartment and began paying his rent in full. Justin credits Chicago House for helping him to re-gain his confidence and providing him with the supports to become self-sufficient. He is also currently working with a therapist to help him repair relationships with family and friends.