SSI Homeless Outreach Project

Vernice Deller, 55, had been living in an abandoned building near 63rd and Ashland.

Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and parental abandonment and incarceration, are common among homeless adults. The SSI Homeless Outreach Project specializes in providing trauma-informed advocacy to persons who are homeless, disabled, and who are survivors of such experiences. It reaches out to Chicago’s homeless and mentally ill adults, connecting them with SSI benefits and supportive services.

Many local homeless people, often with mentally illness, lacked the necessary income and supports to forge the link to housing and security. It was difficult for them to make appointments to apply for benefits or get legal assistance, and hard for advocates to keep in touch with them and for the government to process their benefits applications. For those with substance-abuse disorders, it took considerable expertise to convince the Social Security disability examiners that their mental illness is the true disability. This population required intense, integrated services that are hard to come by in a single legal service or community mental health agency.

We collaborated with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to launch the project, bringing together critical services that are so desperately needed by this population. In 2007, the project’s first year of operation, it provided legal assistance to 129 mentally ill homeless clients and helped 74 people promptly receive disability benefits and Medicaid and connect to permanent, stable housing.

The project is now operated by the Legal Council for Health Justice (formerly the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago).

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