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An agency to support

Fri, Apr 20, 2012

Jim LoBianco

Thirty years ago a Chicago priest responded to the growing number of homeless men and women coming to his rectory by founding San Jose Obrero Mission (SJOM) in the Pilsen neighborhood. Today SJOM serves close to 100 people (men, women, and children) providing them with a warm and safe place to sleep, hot meals, and an array of social services, including: an individualized program of case management, career coaching, life skills training, referral and follow-up services through the Men in Crisis and Families in Crisis programs.

SJOM has been a valued resource to the Pilsen community and the city as a whole for over three decades. Under the current leadership of Executive Director Israel Vargas, the agency continues to expand its services to men and women in crisis. In fact when called on by the City of Chicago, Israel agreed to take over a program for women and children that was going to close. The reason I know this is because I was the City official who turned to Israel and SJOM for help.

In 2009 the City was notified that a family shelter program near SJOM was going to shut down. As Deputy Commissioner for Homeless Services, I scrambled with my coworkers to try and find a solution. After doing an assessment of resources we determined that the very best option would be for SJOM to take the program over. The benefits of this action were many. SJOM was located near the program, it was well established and respected in Pilsen, and SJOM had an exemplary track record of delivering high quality services.

Unfortunately, there were also serious drawbacks that SJOM needed to consider. First and foremost was funding. The City could not provide all the money needed to run the family program successfully. In fact, the City could only provide about 1/3rd of funding. Also, the program was not run as well as SJOM’s existing programs, so Israel and his team would have to make significant programmatic improvements. Lastly, the facility also needed a great deal of work.

In spite of these drawbacks, Israel agreed to take over the program. This action prevented 40 women and children from, once again, finding themselves on the street. It also assured them a supportive home in one of Chicago’s leading homeless service agencies. Israel and his staff poured themselves into improving the program and the facility. Under his leadership, SJOM raised the needed funds and put the family program on the right track.

My reason for sharing this story is to let you know that SJOM is an agency that you should consider supporting. When the City of Chicago was in need, Israel Vargas made sure that SJOM was there to support the women and children who were at risk. Now SJOM could use your help. Read more about the agency in this week’s cover story on page 10 and find out how you can support an agency that does so much to help others.

By Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either jlobianco@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).

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