Shawn Has Keys to a Better Future
After 18 years of living on the streets, Shawn Clark now has a place he calls home.
With keys in his pocket, Shawn feels proud and relieved to have a place of his own. When Shawn first entered his new apartment in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, he was amazed by the “clean, white walls.” He was thrilled to have his own private bathroom where he could take long, hot showers.
“Within the first few days in my own place, it felt like I took more showers than I have in years,” Shawn jokes.
Before moving into his own place, Shawn said that he looked forward to “sleeping in,” which is something he was not able to do for nearly two decades.
Living on the streets, Shawn learned to survive. “I slept under the viaduct at Webster and Damen on and off for over six years,” says Shawn. “I slept there in the winter when it was 55 below zero.” “I had piece of cardboard under me to sleep on and I wrapped myself up in a blanket – like a big burrito,” he laughs.
Shawn first became homeless when his employer, a restaurant, shut down and he lost his income. “That put me in a hard place,” Shawn says.
Struggles with a substance use disorder kept Shawn homeless for years while he worked at a variety of odd jobs. Shawn tried his hand at different trades, including sewer and drainage work, dry walling, painting, salvage work and more. But they never earned him enough money to afford housing.
Shawn found out about Franciscan Outreach’s soup kitchen in Wicker Park when he was looking for a place to eat. “You can always get a good meal in this place,” Shawn says. Over the years, he’s been a regular at Franciscan Outreach and has gotten to know the staff, guests and volunteers. “This is my family,” he says.
Meeting regularly with his Franciscan Outreach case manager, Jonathan Dargatz, Shawn realized that Jonathan was someone he could trust and may be able to help him reach his goals. With Jonathan’s help, Shawn began to turn his focus toward the future.
“I’ve been wanting housing for quite a while,” says Shawn.
Over the past year, Shawn and Jonathan have diligently worked together to find a way for him to become housed. They completed the application for Shawn to be entered into Chicago’s housing waitlist. They also connected with the appropriate resources for Shawn to receive an identification, a social security card, primary and mental health support, public aid, and transportation assistance.
All their hard work paid off when Shawn was approved to receive a Shelter Plus Care housing voucher. Shelter Plus Care is a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that provides housing assistance and supportive services to those who are experiencing chronic homelessness.
However, even with a voucher in hand, the scarcity of affordable housing in Chicago made the task of finding a place for Shawn extremely difficult. The two searched for months to find Shawn a home.
Through the process, Shawn remained optimistic. He said that he just kept thinking about how nice it would be to have “a place where you can open the door, go in, and lock it behind you.”
Today, Shawn has such a place.
“My new place gives me a sense of stability and security. I don’t have to worry that someone is going to make me move in the middle of the night,” he says.
When thinking about the future, Shawn says, “I now have an incentive to make my life better for myself and maybe I can even help other people.”