Seventeen years ago, while living in a recovery home, David McGowan received an offer he couldn’t refuse. A native Chicagoan from the Cabrini-Green neighborhood , David was invited to leave the recovery home he shared with 18 other men and move into his own furnished studio apartment in Wicker Park.
Having been homeless for years, David quickly accepted the invitation, though it meant embarking on the grueling journey of recovering from drug addiction.
That life-changing offer came in October 2001 from Renaissance Social Services (RSSI), a United Way of Metro Chicago community partner working to end homelessness in Chicago. Each year, RSSI places hundreds of the city’s most vulnerable individuals, like David, in permanent supportive housing, while also helping to tackle their other challenges.
In its 21-year tenure, leaders of Renaissance Social Services have recognized that homelessness and poor health work in tandem. Homelessness can be both the result and cause of mental and physical health issues, and stable housing, in addition to supportive health services, is a critical factor in improving people’s mental and physical health.
Utilizing a variety of wraparound services, RSSI case managers and other community providers address and help clients mitigate the root causes of their housing insecurity, including mental illness, chronic health conditions, substance use disorders and more.
In 2017, RSSI housed 252 homeless individuals and families and provided clinical services that resulted in 81 percent remaining out of inpatient psychiatric facilities, 92 percent avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations, and 82 percent achieving mental health stability.
For David, a 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran, Renaissance Social Services not only provided a place for him to call home, they gave him a “safe haven” and the structure needed to turn his life around.
“It meant the world to me. For so many years, I would get out of treatment and because I was a chronic relapser, every time I’d go back and do the same thing and get the same results,” David said of his drug use. “So, I needed a place to go where the whole set and surroundings were different. I needed a new structure, a new way. And this was the beginning.”
Since then, David’s moved to another Renaissance apartment complex in Bucktown. However, he’s maintained a sense of stability that’s encouraged his sobriety. He generously credits Renaissance Social Services for playing a critical role in his recovery by creating an environment absent of drug activity, teaching him life and homecare skills, holding him accountable for taking his medicine and helping him navigate systems so he can receive public benefits.
“When you’re in an addiction and you come out of that addiction, you are really undisciplined. You don’t know how to pay your rent. You’re not really about taking your medicines and housekeeping,” David said. “[The case managers] were my perseverance. You know how some people have a good luck charm? They were my motivators.”
With his life and health stabilized, David is closer with his family and serves as a sponsor for others living with addiction.
“If I can just stay sober, help another [person] , and be available for my children and my grandchildren and my great-children, that’s a whole bunch right there,” he said with a smile.