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Streetwise Feature: Consortium of service providers in Uptown provide safety net and work together to combat poverty

Thu, Jan 30, 2014

Beth Ruegg is a kind, patient woman with a gentle demeanor and the glow of warmth and friendliness. She lives in a modest studio apartment in Uptown and works as a marketing representative at an advertising agency in downtown Chicago. You would never know from meeting her that she once found herself without a dollar to her name and homeless.

Fortunately, during this difficult period, Beth worked with a community of Chicago-based social service organizations that not only partnered together to help her with housing, job training, and medical needs, but gave her a community of support to know that she did not have to face this crisis alone.

Chicago Social Service agenciesBeth began working for an advertising agency in December 2003, but was laid off due to budget cuts during the summer of 2011. Soon after, she was evicted from her apartment and moved in with a friend from church. However, when he became abusive, Beth was forced to move out. She found herself without anywhere to go, so she turned to Cornerstone Community Outreach (4628 N. Clifton Ave.), a homeless shelter, for assistance. Cornerstone gave Beth a place to stay. She describes this as a “really low point” in her life.

Shortly after, Cornerstone connected Beth with Heartland Alliance (4433 N. Ravenswood) to address her medical needs. Heartland Alliance provided Beth with doctors’ appointments and enabled her to improve her health.

In March 2012, Beth stumbled upon the offices of another organization, Inspiration Corporation at 4554 N. Broadway.

“I just went into the building one morning, because it was really cold. So I went over to Inspiration and they just happened to be getting ready for orientation for their Employment Project,” Beth explained.

Beth enrolled in the four-week Employment Project course. She said, “I learned how to do my job better and I worked on my communication skills. I was also set up with case management and that was really, really helpful.”

In the summer of 2012, Heartland Alliance referred Beth to LIFT-Chicago, also at 4554 N. Broadway. LIFT became the next agency to be part of Beth’s path to self-sufficiency.

“[LIFT] was really helpful with getting me set up and trying to help me find jobs. They were always really kind when I came into the office. I appreciated that at the time,” Beth said.

Later that summer, Beth sought domestic violence counseling from Sarah’s Circle (4838 N. Sheridan Road) to help deal with the trauma she faced in her earlier abusive relationship.

“Sarah’s Circle had a lot of support for groups of women. They had one for relationships, one for domestic violence and some other groups,” Beth explained. “They would have students from Loyola [University Chicago] come over and give everybody manicures. I always enjoyed that.”

While Beth was searching for employment, gaining new job skills and receiving physical and mental health assistance from this community of nonprofits, she finally obtained a subsidized apartment with Mercy Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing development, in April 2013.

“I was so happy to be housed,” Beth said.

Beth’s next objective was to find a way to gain some income while she searched for more stable employment. When Beth was at Inspiration Corporation one day, a representative from StreetWise visited to introduce the agency’s Workforce Development Program. He encouraged Beth to go down the hall to StreetWise headquarters to learn more, so she did.

“I went to the [StreetWise] orientation and passed the test and started selling magazines just to get a little pocket money,” Beth said. “And that made me feel better, because I could go in and get a Starbucks once in while, which I missed doing. It was just hard being down to zero. I promised myself that I would never let that happen again.”

Today, Beth is stably employed: she received her job back at the advertising agency in February 2013. She is also an advocate for victims’ rights in an effort to help other women who have experienced domestic violence. She actively participates in community events and writes poetry focused on advocacy in her spare time.

After triumphing over such a difficult period in her life, she acknowledges that without the Uptown network of social service organizations that helped her overcome poverty, she may never have survived. Beth especially appreciated that these organizations partner closely together, allowing them to make crucial referrals that addressed her needs. She also valued that they are geographically close, so she did not have to spend precious cash on travel costs.

“[These non-profits] are all together, which is nice, because you can go from one place to another without having to worry about the cost of transportation. It’s all kind of community-based. You feel a connectedness.” Beth said, “When I only had 25 cents in my pocket, I couldn’t go from place to place on the CTA.”

“Beth is a hard-working, resilient and determined woman who— in the face of a significant shaky ground stretch— leveraged a safety net in her neighborhood to stabilize her life and get back to work,” LIFT-Chicago Executive Director Ben Reuler said. “We as service providers not only helped Beth access tangible outcomes like housing and counseling but we also—equally as important—helped her not give up. We all need people in our corner when we feel like the sky is falling; Beth is an inspiration to anyone who worked with her and I am proud to be part of a safety net of providers that works collaboratively—not in a duplicative manner— to combat poverty. It takes a village.”

When thinking of other men and women who are struggling with unemployment and homelessness, Beth hopes they will take advantage of the network of interconnected nonprofits in Chicago.

“These organizations have a lot to offer and you don’t have to go at it alone or simply go to one,” Beth said. “I would always encourage people …to try different places and not just to sit around and do nothing, because if you do that, you’ll have no results. If you go around to different nonprofits and they want to help, you should do that, because it will definitely bear fruit.”


By Brittany Langmeyer and Allison Glaubke
StreetWise Publisher & LIFT Staff Member

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