Trudy Jackson knows what it’s like to be a guest at Franciscan House, the homeless shelter operated by Franciscan Outreach at 2715 W. Harrison St.
Jackson now works at the shelter as part of a job readiness program and also volunteers there, but she was one of the residents from May 2014 until January, when she moved into her own apartment at Deborah’s Place, part of a supportive transitional housing program for women.
“The best thing is that I have keys,” Jackson said. “I haven’t had keys to my own place for so long.”
In addition to her work at Franciscan House, Jackson, 55, also spends time helping her mother, who lives in an assisted living facility.
It was her mother’s situation that brought her back to Chicago, Jackson said, but when she arrived, she had no job, no money and no place to live.
Franciscan House guests, like most people who use homeless shelters, must leave early each morning and return in the evening. Those who stay at the shelter can leave belongings there and have the first opportunity to reclaim their beds when the shelter reopens at night.
Some, like Jackson, are invited to become part of a transitional housing program in which they can stay and work at the shelter during the day.
Getting accepted into the job readiness program with National Able Network meant that Jackson started earning an income, and that helped her get accepted at Deborah’s Place.
She appreciates that Deborah’s Place offers its residents the same kind of case management and support that Franciscan House offers its guests.
“You don’t feel like you’re alone there,” she said.
Still, the most important thing Franciscan House does for its guests is the most obvious, Jackson said.
“It gets you out of the cold,” she said.
Once guests have shelter, then they can work on their other issues with the case managers, she said.
“You have to help them to help you,” she said. “You have to be truthful about your situation so that they can help you.”
Jackson’s tasks at Franciscan House include everything from laundering sheets and towels to prepping food for the evening and morning meals, as well as supervising in the women’s dorm.
“I just like to give back as well as keep myself busy,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know how productive I could be.”
When the weather is bad, she advocates for the women to be allowed to stay in longer, she said.
“I’ll say, ‘Let’s have a bed and bin wash,’” she said. “That helps keep the place clean, too.”
Jackson worked for Chicago Public Schools before moving to Arizona, where she worked in a bank and in home health care. Then she went to Florida, where her daughter lives, but ended up suffering a heart attack and becoming homeless.
Her situation did not improve when she returned to Chicago to assist her mother.
“I never in a million years thought I would be homeless,” Jackson said. “I used to feed the homeless.”
Now, she said, if she had all the money she needed, she’d open something like a mall for homeless people, a place that would open when the shelters send people out on the street at 6:30 a.m. People could get food and other necessities, maybe with vouchers from the shelters, and sit down and talk or watch a movie.
“It would be a place where they could feel like people,” Jackson said. “You have to stand outside a store or restaurant and beg for hours sometimes just to get a dollar or get something to eat. It’s hard to be homeless.”
Every night of the year, Franciscan Outreach serves 382 men and women at three shelters throughout Chicago. The homeless are one of the most vulnerable populations during the COCID-19 pandemic and trying to keep them healthy and protected has called for new ways to serve them, according to Richard Ducatenzeiler, the non-profit’s executive director.
Over 100 volunteers from Caridades de la Cruz offered food, clothing, showers and haircuts to 125 of the area’s homeless at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 21, 2019.
Dominique Coronel wasn’t a stranger to housing insecurity before he arrived at DePaul University. By the time he was in high school, he was having trouble finding a secure place to live. He lost the care of his parents when he was young, he said, his mother to addiction and his father to incarceration.