Meet Aaron. Aaron has experienced homelessness for more than a decade. Found in a dumpster as an infant, he was placed into foster care. His foster mother eventually adopted him, but the home situation was unbearable, and he ran away from home while he was still in high school. “I was still going to school and sleeping anywhere I could…the parks, the train. I would go to McDonald’s to wash up and brush my teeth and go to school.”
“Nobody knew I was homeless because it was something I didn’t want to share.”
In high school, Aaron devoted his time to basketball and tennis, and was offered a full basketball scholarship at NIU. Aaron declined his scholarship in favor of attending Wilbur Wright College, where he was able to study radiology while staying in Chicago. His housing situation remained much the same during this time—Aaron continued to sleep on trains and wherever he could find a safe spot.
Despite these challenges, Aaron continued developing his basketball skills in hopes of playing in the NBA while working on his degree. However, a gunshot wound ended his basketball dreams, leaving him without direction.
He spent much of his 20s moving from job to job while sleeping in abandoned buildings. He learned who to call to have the utilities connected in these buildings so he could plug in a space heater. Aaron told us, “I was starting to think that everybody was homeless” because there were so many people on the streets each night.
On a bitterly cold night last December, Aaron knew he couldn’t sleep outside. He found his way to one of Housing Forward’s temporary emergency warming shelters. “I had to put my pride to the side. I just had to do what I had to do.” After signing in and getting a hot meal, Aaron started talking to Jamil, a member of our Street Outreach Team, and shared his experiences with homelessness.
Our Street Outreach Team is often a client’s first step toward ending homelessness. Mobile team members connect with people who are living on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in their cars. They meet people where they are— geographically, mentally, and emotionally— and work to help people who are unsheltered feel safe and supported. The first step is addressing the most basic needs like safety, food, and shelter. Over time, they can begin linking them to services to resolve their crisis and provide a base from which they can take steps toward a permanent solution.
After Jamil earned Aaron’s trust, Aaron was recommended to our Interim Housing Program. There, Aaron has a room of his own and three meals a day; he also receives structured programming and wraparound services that are designed to help Aaron achieve stability while he works to secure housing.
With his basic needs met, Aaron is now able to focus on his next steps with Rachel, his case manager, to find a permanent destination. Freed from the struggle of homelessness, Aaron feels as though he finally has some clarity surrounding his goals. “I didn’t even really think about exactly what I wanted to do until Rachel sat me down and helped me see a broader picture.” Aaron hopes for a place of his own soon so he can continue to make his music, which became his passion after his basketball hopes were ended.
To support the work of our Outreach Team and to help Aaron and others like him who come to us for help, please make a donation using the link below.