Since 1994, we’ve helped nearly 10,000 men and woman start a new life. Meet our former residents and hear their stories.
It was a warm July day and Jake Starks, the first Executive Director at The Boulevard of Chicago (when it was still named Interfaith House) and a skeleton crew was working hard, preparing for the opening day scheduled in two weeks. The plan was to open in stages with men coming first and occupying the first floor, followed by women who would live on the second floor. The staff was in the process of getting the kitchen cleaned and in working order, but there was no food service yet.
Jake was working in his office when a middle-aged man walked in the front door on crutches. His name was Bucky, and he was a Vietnam War Vet who had been a prisoner of war for 3 years. He had been wounded in combat, and lost his leg while being held captive, but survived his POW experience. During these long years as a prisoner, the US Army considered him a casualty of war and declared him dead.
Tragically, Bucky’s challenges were only beginning. When he returned home he found that his wife, thinking he had been killed, had remarried and his family had scattered. He became depressed and began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, eventually becoming homeless. After living for many years on the street, struggling with his demons, he ended up in the hospital with an infection in his leg. When it was time for his discharge, he was released back to the streets of Chicago, and directed to find a new facility called ‘the Interfaith House’—whatever that was…
Everyone at the House was surprised by his arrival (some two weeks earlier than they had expected anyone), but the small staff responded with compassion and ingenuity. Jake shared his brown bag lunch, someone made up a bed for him, and arrangements were made to have meals brought in until the kitchen was up and running.
Bucky was soon joined by other residents who came from Cook County Hospital and from the Chicago Department of Family Services and Interfaith House was launched. While Bucky was at Interfaith House, he healed from his infection and his case manager helped him regain his army back pay-enough to allow him to move from Interfaith House to his own apartment.
For several years Bucky would drop in to see the staff and share his story with the current residents. He has not been back in many years and sadly there is no word of his whereabouts. However, his memory lives on as the first resident of the first, and still only, medical respite program in Chicago.
(Thanks to Matt Weimer and others for this essay.)
We all have a history. When Francisco visited The Boulevard a few weeks ago, he told us his story. “I was out on the street, homeless – drug addict. Using whatever I could find to get euphoria. I was living in the park, going through trash … was just going from hand to mouth begging and trying to get handouts. How did I get there? Peer pressure – hang with the guys and do what they were doing. I was in my late 20s when drug use started.” That was back in 1995.
“Then one night the parks were being scoured for homeless people. I was in the park wrapped in a blanket. The Department of Human Services picked me up and got me to a new organization called Interfaith House (now The Boulevard).
“I had no self-discipline when I arrived. I had no self-esteem. But, I saw an opportunity to get my act together. There were showers available. Discipline was imposed as far as taking care of myself physically and mentally. Programs were available, offering classes that allowed you to examine your problem. I learned to be disciplined and learned how to live a disciplined life. Before, I had not been exposed to this kind of help. It was a welcome place, rather than on the streets, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.
“The main thing I learned is that the majority of people think there is no way out. Many people don’t have the courage or faith to take the leap and believe in themselves. I lost my morals through addiction – once I learned I could live without addiction, it was a turning point for me. They gave me a life preserver.
“A lot of times people in need of help are ashamed, embarrassed and they don’t reach out. They don’t feel worthy and also do not trust others. Interfaith (The Boulevard) provided a place where I could be with others facing the same plight in an organized system that provided community, help meetings, and the opportunity to reach much needed guidance.
“I was afraid to go back on the streets and asked if I could stay beyond the typical three months stay. I was there for about five months. Then, with their help and encouragement, I was accepted at a housing facility for people in recovery. In order to get a room you had to prove yourself and stay clean and sober. I was determined to stay clean and I’ve been successful. Interfaith (The Boulevard) had put me on the road to recovery.
Wanting to help others, “I petitioned and got into a school on substance abuse – where you could become a counselor. This allowed me to work at a shelter, and I was paid a salary plus room and board.”
Later, Francisco got a temporary job in a manufacturing company, eventually becoming full-time. He worked there until life handed him another challenge, a cancer diagnosis. Now in remission, he’s battling cancer with the same energy and determination that he battled substance abuse.
“I am so grateful for how The Boulevard helped me, and also the opportunity to see how the program continues to serve others. It saved my life. It’s a place to reinvent yourself. I started to live and be responsible, to love myself and to contribute to society. I learned how to stay healthy and clean, sober standards of living [at the Boulevard]. I have kept using those tools throughout my life.”
Interfaith (The Boulevard) had put me on the road to recovery.
Francisco is just one of thousands of women and men who have been able to rebuild their lives because of The Boulevard since we opened our doors in 1994. Please help us keep those doors open in the years ahead by making a donation today.
The recession left Ken, a union construction worker, out of work and without a place to live. He finally secured a job at a local hardware store only to be hit by a car on his way home from work. He was able to come to The Boulevard and recuperate while putting his life back together. Here he learned how to work with computers, bought a mobile home and has plans to work in hardware sales. When asked to explain what The Boulevard has meant to him, he replied, “I can’t even explain that.”
A long history of alcohol abuse and chronic illness landed Denise in the hospital. Thankfully she was discharged to The Boulevard, where she received a second chance. During her time there Denise connected with a board member who works at DePaul University and a strong friendship began. Denise was able to move out of The Boulevard and enroll at DePaul. She often returned to The Boulevard as a volunteer, inspiring current residents dealing with the issues she had faced. Denise passed in 2017.
Although Donald was working, the compensation was not enough to afford a home. Suffering from poorly managed diabetes and hypertension, he eventually had a stroke, which sent him to the hospital and from there to the Boulevard. During his stay, he learned how to properly manage his blood pressure and diabetes. He quit smoking and found a renewed sense of discipline. Eventually he was discharged to his own apartment. He now has two jobs and occasionally returns to The Boulevard as a volunteer.
“A lot of the ideas and inspiration I found at The Boulevard apply to daily living” says Donald.
For her whole life Beverly felt alone – suffering from a chronic illness without the support of a community. Upon arriving at The Boulevard, she felt instantly connected to the residents around her. She was able to recover and move out to Lake Street Studios, an apartment complex where many former Boulevard residents live. She’s now thriving in her own apartment in a strong community which she loves.