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Youth homelessness behind teaming of AFC, Vida/SIDA
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) and Vida/SIDA—a project of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC )—are teaming on a new initiative, El Rescate 2.0, to help HIV positive homeless youth get a new lease on life.

This isn't the first time that the AFC and Vida/SIDA has worked together on an initiative. AFC provides case management and prevention services including counseling and testing through Vida/SIDA's Ryan White Case Management program.

"El Rescate 2.0, an extension of our El Rescate program, is a scattered sites permanent supportive housing program for HIV-positive and LGBTQ youth ages 18-24," said Jorge Cestou, Vida/SIDA director of programs and services. "We started this initiative on Jan. 1 with 15 units available to HIV positive homeless youth. We hope to grow the program to 30 units by next year."

Cestou shared that the apartments will be located where the youth want to live with the main location being the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

"We think they will still live within the same area as El Rescate because that's where people go to work or school but they will have their own individual apartments which is different from the shared living arrangement that is El Rescate," said Angelique Miller, AFC's senior director of housing and behavioral health services. "We're being flexible with the ages and will take certain youth that are 17 or 25 if we have a spot available for them."

Cestou and Miller met each other while serving on the Chicago Area HIV Integrated Services Council. They teamed up about six months ago to work on this initiative following discussions in-house at the PRCC-Vida/SIDA about the things they needed to do for the clients who were graduating from the El Rescate program.

The Chicago Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Human Services are the primary sources of funding for this program.

"AFC is very excited to work with us on this program since this will be the first time they will have a youth program," said Cestou. "We're excited to partner with them because we're bringing something new to the community. This program is the first of its kind."

"I'm really excited about this program. I've been with AFC for a long time and created a lot of different programming that really identifies individuals that aren't served or haven't been served very well by traditional mainstream homeless programs. There are still a lot of fears, unknowns and stigma about HIV/AIDS in the regular homeless system," said Miller. "This is a big opportunity for us to support these individuals and really encourage other organizations to do something similar. I want to show that youth can be trusted with their own apartments with the proper supports in place so they can succeed in their life."

Miller explained that the program will provide a variety of services to the clients including one-on-one case management in their homes or at the office as well as assistance for issues such as substance use, mental health issues, employment, education and/or family situations.

"The case manager we have assigned to this program is already working with seven clients who are ready to graduate from the El Rescate program and will need to move into a more permanent space," said Cestou.

Cestou noted that they are planning on working with a number of organizations they've partnered with in the past and are already hearing from groups that are interested in helping them with this program.

"We've partnered with Pedro Albizu Campos High School. They have an alternative program for young people up to age 24 who want to go to school so they can graduate with a high school diploma and not just a GED," said Cestou. "We're considering partnering with the University of Chicago. They have a mobile medical van that we want to make available for the program participants. The ultimate goal for the funding is so the participants will be able to attend their medical appointments and adhere to their HIV-medication schedules."

"We're going to do an evaluation component with our researcher at AFC. She's actually been working with us and Vida/SIDA to create the tools for these evaluations," said Miller. "We've been talking nationally to other AIDS-service organizations to see if we can collaborate with them about what we are doing so we can get national statistics and best practices that people in a few years can incorporate in their own communities across the nation."

"We will be making presentations to community-based organizations and the general public to make them aware of what we are doing with this program," said Cestou.

As for the next five years, Miller and Cestou hope they will have 200 units available. They are also looking to expand the program to include non-HIV positive homeless youth clients.

For more information about the program, contact Cestou at or call 773-278-6737.

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