Chicago House has opened a transgender drop-in space on Chicago's West Side.
Chicago House is a social-service agency that serves individuals and families who are disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ marginalization, poverty homelessness, and/or gender nonconformity by providing housing, employment services, medical services and retention services.
Serving as a replica of the original trans safe drop-in located on the North Side at 1925 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago House's new location is at 9 N. Cicero Ave. The location is a safe place for trans-identifying individuals on the West Side seeking services such as housing and medical assistance.
Chicago House is sharing office space with Task Force, another local social service organization, and is offering services at its West Side location Wednesdays 2-5 p.m. The North Side location will continue to be available for individuals in that area Monday afternoons.
Chicago House, which started as an HIV/AIDS organization in the 1980s, added transgender programming a few years ago. Since 2014 the organization has served nearly 600 transgender people in Chicago, according to the director of the agency's Trans Life Center, Josie Paul.
The mission of Chicago House's Trans Life Center is to provide medical, legal, and housing assistance to transgender people, primarily transgender women and primarily transgender women of color.
"Chicago House is a safe space where individuals can come in and participate in any of the services we provide," explained Paul. "We don't put up barriers to accessing services. We provide the service the individual is looking for."
Paul said that some services in the city makes it difficult for transgender individuals to receive the services and day-to-day assistance they may need. For example, some organizations require certain gender specifications and identification given at birth to provide servicesChicago House provides services to all transgender individuals, no matter their gender assigned at birth.
"We accept our clients and trust and value their self-determination," said Paul.
The only requirement is that the client must be 18 or older to receive services from Chicago House.
Paul said that it is very common for transgender individuals to be faced with hate crimes, abuse and even murder. The streets become a concrete jungle for transgender people, on all sides of the city. In this case, Chicago House realized the need for a safe drop-in on the West Side, in a particular area where transgender women have been violated and some even lost their lives.
"We recognize that this is a place a number of women have faced violence and murder on the West Side," said Paul.
Cicero Avenue is, in certain places, a rather infamous stroll, and transgender women can be particularly vulnerable in those spaces. This is why Chicago House's new location mattersit's convenient, and right in the heart of where their support is needed.
"We realize that our model on the North Side was successful, but those important services aren't accessible to all those who need them on the West Side," said Paul.
Reyna Ortiz, Trans Safe Coordinator at Chicago House, works with several of the clients who visit the North Side location and will now be working with clients on the West Side. She said it is a very rewarding job to work for Chicago House and she's been with the organization for four years.
"A lot of trans women, specifically Black and Latino, are living in terrible poverty and that poverty branches off to other issues," said Ortiz. "Every client comes with a different story."
Ortiz works with the the transgender clients at Chicago House and learns firsthand of the needs most of the individuals are seeking. She said when she first meets a client, she has a very real and uncut conversation. Once the client is assessed, she works with other staffers at Chicago House to determine beneficial resources of the client and how Chicago House can provide those resources.
Ortiz said that many transgender people face discrimination and homelessness. Some do survival crimes, including sex work. Chicago House is known for housing assistance for the LGBTQ community, and housing is a serious issue among transgender people.
"Housing is the foundation of life," said Ortiz. "Society cannot expect anyone to flourish without housing."
Chicago House also helps with tasks such as employment and helping transgender clients obtain identification such as driver's licenses and birth certificates.
"The overall goal of the new Chicago House trans-safe drop-in is to see an amazing resource center for trans-identified people on the West Side," said Ortiz. They are working with transgender people on Chicago's West Side to "eliminate life-threatening issues and provide resources to help them."