At home and finding a new job

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Over the last decade, Louis O. Dugan, a 60-year-old former U.S. Marine, has been intermittently couch surfing and homeless, living on the streets.

At the height of the recent recession he lost his job, then eventually everything else. It was then that he reached out to Housing Forward, and they reached back. Housing Forward is the new name for West Suburban PADS.

"Oh my God, I was homeless for three years.  First of all, you have an area where you hang around in, and mine was Franklin Park, where my daughter stayed in," said Dugan.  "Then, the first thing you learn is where all the bathrooms in town are, and next, where all the clocks are in town, because if you do not own a watch, you do not know when the warming centers, or libraries are open or closed.  I just got a cell phone, and it is a government phone, so I was very lucky to get that."

Dugan said his first break came last winter when he headed to the PADS shelter in Franklin Park and they began opening doors for him.

 "Louis is a classic example of why we work under an approach called Housing First, which means the program is focused on moving homeless people into independent and permanent housing as quickly as possible, then providing additional supports and services as needed," said Chelsea Dare, the Open Door Housing case manager at Housing Forward. She is now part of Dugan's ongoing recovery as he moves toward a more stable life.

Even though Dugan is now in a space he describes as a beautiful third floor apartment with eight windows, a back door, hardwood floors in a family-friendly neighborhood, he wants one more thing in place:  a job.

 "I lost my factory job and I could not find another job, and I am still trying to find a job.  In fact, I am always trying to find a job, but it has been a little slow going," he said.  "I am 60 years old, so not everyone is going to want to run out and hire me." 

Some additional assistance, says Cristy Harris, director of the Prevail program of Housing Forward, could come for Dugan though Housing Forward's job readiness and counseling programming, which has expanded in scope since the recent merger of Housing Forward and Prevail. 

"The level and intensity of services needed by some people is much greater, so we do our best, and Prevail does, as well, to  get people the services they need immediately, then making sure their crisis is as short as possible," said Lynda Schueler, executive director of Housing Forward.  She adds that the non-profit's combined Emergency Assistance and Job Readiness programming will maintain the Prevail name as programs of Housing Forward, and will continue to operate out of First United Church of Oak Park.

"Oh yeah, my life is better now that I have a house," Dugan said.  "I almost gave up before I got the apartment, but Chelsea stopped me.  She said, 'Louis, I think we have a place for you.'  I thought it was BS at first, but she was sincere.  And when it happened, it was pretty cool because I know that these people went to all this trouble for me."

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