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Since 1979, Sarah’s Circle has provided crucial services to thousands of women experiencing homelessness. Uptown United spoke with Executive Director Katherine Ragnar about supporting Uptown’s most vulnerable residents and addressing that, in Chicago, 2,844 women are homeless on any given night.
Fact is, while homelessness is difficult for anyone, women become homeless for reasons different than men. The combination of childhood trauma, domestic violence, the high costs of childcare, and a gender wage gap exacerbate their risk. Worse, the stress of living on the street is doubled by a lack of access to personal hygiene and an ever-present risk of assault.
Thus, Sarah’s Circle aims to be a place of hope for women who have been through tremendous ordeals by the time they come to them. The staff works hard to provide not just housing, but also support and a sense of belonging, which begins with people not being defined by their lack of housing. Katherine says it’s critical to remember that to be homeless is not part of one’s identity but that he or she is merely experiencing homelessness. This is a subtle, but powerful way to recognize a person’s humanity and a step towards empowering them.
Katherine also emphasizes that the ladies need safety as much if not more than others. These women want a safer neighborhood more than anybody because they in fact are the most vulnerable. For those who come to Sarah’s Circle, feeling safe is key in them being able to recover and thrive. To that end, Sarah’s Circle works to be firmly integrated in the neighborhood and act as a good neighbor. Their 25 employees and over 300 volunteers and interns mean more eyes on the street and more people shopping locally. In fact, an Uptown United survey found that the area’s many social service agencies bring thousands of jobs and millions in spending to Uptown.
Today, Sarah’s Circle serves close to 1,000 women annually. The ultimate goal is to end homelessness, but in the interim Sarah’s Circle works to alleviate the pain these women experience and monthly, they ponder what services they can provide to get that number down. Sarah’s Circle provides over 62,000 meals a year, plus laundry, showers, lockers. It runs a daytime support center open to any woman in need, a 50-bed interim housing program for currently-homeless women, and permanent supportive housing for women with a disabling condition who have been chronically homeless. And, with funding from the Chicago Community Trust, Sarah’s Circle has set aside several beds for transgender women, educating its clients and becoming even more inclusive in the process.
Since most of the women they work with have experienced trauma, Sarah’s Circle is strategic in providing their services, which include art therapy, music, and dance. Plus holiday parties and events that let people socialize and just have fun. All this builds trust and support that help a woman stay housed for the long term. And, for Katherine & her team, having even one woman be homeless is one too many. Thus, the agency is expanding its footprint by rehabilitating a dilapidated building at Leland and Sheridan. Katherine knows it will be a long process, but worth the fight if fewer women experience the stress and humiliation of homelessness.
So visit their website, donate money, or supplies. Come share your talent with the ladies to help brighten their day and advocate for more resources everywhere, to help ending homelessness a reality.
This content was written while I was Program Manager at Uptown United, an agency working to nurture a diverse, vibrant, thriving and strong Uptown. [/two_third][one_third_last padding=”0 20px 0 0″][/one_third_last]