Several years ago, I found myself serving as an Individual Development Specialist at a local Chicago organization focused on helping people obtain full-time, long-term career opportunities. In this role, I worked the front lines as a counselor for my first-year Master of Social Work degree. I served by working with men and women to sustain the experiences circumscribing their employment — family dynamics, mental health wellness, sight and hearing accommodations, support for children, and residential status. I met with individuals when they first arrived, directed them to support services, visited them regularly post-placement. And I listened. A lot.
I recall one of the gentlemen I served, who showed up every day with an incredibly positive attitude. Each day he’d arrive at the center on time, impressively dressed from a wardrobe of slacks, button-ups, jackets, and ties that made me envious. However, as the day progressed, he would wear down, struggle to stay awake, and by day’s end, there was little to no positivity at all. I vividly remember his stories of having to be “in place” at a local homeless shelter several miles away every evening by 10:00 p.m., then struggle to fall asleep because of the talking, random noises, and crying he would hear well past midnight. Then he would wake as early as 4:30 a.m. to exit the facility by the required morning deadline. Every day he departed, he prayed the few possessions he owned would still be near his bed when he returned in the evening. And while all the official documentation standards qualified him as having residency, he was homeless.