For years, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) has partnered with Vida/SIDA — a project of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center — to ensure the health and well-being of the Latino/Latina community by offering free HIV testing, counseling and other services crucial to prevent the transmission of HIV. Under their umbrella falls a program called “El Rescate,” a new initiative that aims to house young adults, some of whom are HIV-positive, and provide support and training useful during their transition to independence.
The program started three years ago when Vida/SIDA noticed the high percentile of clients they were helping who were between the ages of 18 and 24, LGBTQ and more importantly, homeless. In the beginning, El Rescate was with no funding at all, but with help from the Chicago Department of Public Health, the project was funded for its first year, and now is successful. Currently housing 21 residents with a capacity for 25, El Rescate is taking on the responsibility of teaching youth residents basic living skills.
“Our intent is to make these kids successful,” says Jorge Cestou, director of programs and services with Vida/SIDA. Working with two in-house advisors, residents are shown the basic skills — like grocery shopping, cooking and household chores — needed to live alone and be self-sufficient. Given a curfew of midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends, the residents are able to stay focused and well-rested for the work or school day ahead while maintaining a healthy social life as well. Residents not in school are allowed to work full-time jobs if they stick to a mandatory savings plan, setting them up for a smooth transition into their own space, with two months’ rent and deposit saved already.
Other community partners have also come in to conduct trainings with residents as well: The University of Illinois at Chicago, Roberto Clemente High School and most recently, Groupon, which offered mock job interviews for the youth.
AFC is excited about enriching the partnership with Vida/SIDA by working with El Rescate to build a continuum to the program for youth who are HIV-positive, with the ultimate goal of transitioning them into permanent housing.
“We are excited to be working with our partner, who has experience working with youth, so that we are able to provide services to our youth,” said Dave Thomas, director of supportive housing partnerships for AFC.
With the current focus of funding being on homeless families and people 55 years old and up, there are few vacant beds available for this specific group of people in the system. But with the help from the Chicago Department of Public Health this can be a shift in housing for not only AFC but the Chicago community as a whole.