Veteran Combats Homelessness and Now Works to Give Back

November 08, 2016
Julia Weegar

Chicago Veteran HomelessnessWhen Pete Razutis was just 13 years old, he went to live with his older sister, Gail, after his mother had passed away. Gail raised Pete during his formative teenage years while they lived in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

At 18, Pete enlisted in the United States Army. He served in the military from 1981 to 1988. While stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Pete trained to become a tank driver. He also spent a year stationed in Germany.

“I enjoyed my time in the service,” says Pete. “It was a great experience.”

After Pete returned to Chicago from his military service, he worked as a janitor until 1990 when he lost his job and his home. With no money and no place to live, Pete became homeless.

“I walked the streets and lived in abandoned buildings or anywhere I could find,” remembers Pete.

Looking for help, Pete went to St. Peter’s Church in Chicago’s Loop where Franciscan Outreach operates a service site for case management. He met with a case manager who referred him to Franciscan Outreach’s shelter on Chicago’s West Side.

“When I got to the shelter, I didn’t have anything but the clothes on my back and a small backpack,” says Pete.

At the shelter, Pete had a safe, warm bed to sleep in at night. He received a nutritious meal for dinner each evening and breakfast in the morning. He had a place to take showers and get clothes. And, the shelter offered Pete a mail service so he could receive his personal mail.

While staying at the shelter, guests, like Pete, have access to the resources they need to improve their lives, including an identification, employment opportunities and housing. They can receive medical assistance through the shelter’s onsite health clinic operated in partnership with Rush University Medical Center. Guests also receive referrals for assistance with their mental health challenges and substance use disorders.

During his time at the shelter, Pete met with case managers who helped him to get back on his feet. He was provided with the opportunity to gain experience while working as a volunteer with staff at the shelter.

“I volunteered to work as a door monitor in the evening,” Pete says. “They also helped me get my food handler’s license so I could get experience in the kitchen preparing meals for shelter guests.”

While working with staff, Pete was given increased responsibilities until he was offered a permanent position as a janitor at the shelter. With a permanent job and more stability, Pete was ready to move into a place of his own. Franciscan Outreach case managers helped Pete find an apartment in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Pete eventually worked up to becoming the maintenance supervisor at the shelter. He has been employed by Franciscan Outreach for more than 14 years.

“Franciscan Outreach helped me by giving me a chance. That’s why I’m here,” says Pete. “Now, I want to give back. I want to give people hope.”

Today, Pete lives in Cicero – just a few blocks away from his sister, Gail, and her family. He enjoys working at the shelter where he gets the chance to speak with shelter guests and encourage them to take advantage of the assistance that’s available to them so they can make positive changes in their lives too.

“I tell shelter guests that I’ve been where they’re at,” Pete says. “I tell them, ‘It’s not hopeless.’ ‘Case managers can help you.’” He continues, “I tell them, ‘If you want to be helped, you can be helped.’”