Chicago house and Social Service Agency which has served people with HIV/AIDS since the epidemic's early days, has a history of adjusting its programs to meet needs. And now it's expanding its mission to serve another often marginalized group: transgender people.
The agency, which provides supportive housing, case management, and job training for HIV-positive people, has just launched the TransLife Project to offer housing, employment assistance, and health care connections to transgender Chicagoans, regardless of HIV status.
The leaders of Chicago House decided to develop the project after several transgender women went through its job training and internship programs, established in 2008 in recognition of the fact that HIVers were living longer, healthier lives and desiring to reenter the work force.
"We saw how big the gaps in service were for transgender people," says CEO Stan Sloan. "One in five transgender people has experienced homelessness, which is a staggering number." They are four times as likely as other Americans to live in extreme poverty (on less than $2,000 a year), and an estimated 41% have attempted suicide, he adds.
Chicago House will address those numbers by providing subsidized housing in a nine-bedroom home (being rehabbed and readied for a 2013 opening) and scattered-site apartments, employment training, and connections to appropriate health care.
While many cities have organizations offering one or more of these services to trans people, Chicago House's program appears to be the nation's most comprehensive, according to both Sloan and National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling.
"I'm a huge fan of the project," says Keisling. NCTE and the Transgender Law Center, she adds, are beginning an effort to help agencies providing these services connect with and learn from each other.
The TransLife Project will also be part of a major research study to identify HIV-positive transgender women of color who are not receiving care and help match them up with it. Chicago House is one of eight sites nationwide that will receive federal funding of $300,000 a year for five years for the study.
Overall, the project is a logical extension of Chicago House's mission, says Sloan, as today many transgender people remain as stigmatized as people with AIDS were when the agency was founded in 1985. "It reconnects us to our roots," he says.