Vision-Shapers-Title 1

After more than 20 years working in unison with the residents of East Garfield Park, Breakthrough’s “people first” focus has helped unify the community. With experts in workforce development, violence prevention, education and more, our work and service has benefitted from the leadership that drives our teams and staff on the front lines doing the work.
Our Vision Shapers series highlights expertise from Breakthrough leadership on issues impacting our community and work.

Read all Vision Shapers articles


In any community, families are vital to its ability to flourish. Unfortunately, families are leaving Chicago in search of stability, affordable housing, and opportunity. This shift has been felt heaviest in communities of color as approximately 12,000 black residents left Cook County between 2015 to 2016. More than 46,000 black people have left the Chicagoland area since 2010, depleting several historic communities of talent and resources.

If our aim is to strengthen and develop communities, we must invest in the well-being of families.

One of the greatest challenges facing many communities today is a shortage of affordable housing for families, particularly in black and brown neighborhoods. This phenomenon has been connected to elevated levels of homelessness, incarceration, and low employment.  

According to a report by the Illinois Department of Human Services, nearly 33,000 Illinois residents were served in state-funded shelters in 2016. Among this population, more than 9,000 were children under the age of 18. The Coalition for Juvenile Justice interviewed over 650 youth in 11 states experiencing homelessness and found that 44 percent had stayed in a jail or juvenile detention centers, 78 percent had at least one interaction with the police, and 62 percent had been arrested at some point in their lives.

We have found that a lack of family housing jeopardizes the stability of the community, especially among the most vulnerable. Available and affordable housing is a cornerstone to a healthy, stable community.

affordable housing first program


When it comes to addressing housing destabilization and combating homelessness in East Garfield Park, Breakthrough’s Permanent Supportive Housing program operates through the Housing First model. We place an emphasis on the chronically homeless and families deemed the hardest to house, which are those dealing with physical, mental, and substance abuse-related health issues as well as those that have a history of homelessness no less than one year.

The Housing First model is an approach to quickly connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment, or service participation requirements. We focus on housing before tackling the other obstacles blocking a person’s journey to stability and, eventually, contribution to community.

In our program, we train our dedicated staff to work with guests in a participant-centered manner and focus on their knowledge and skills while helping them develop personalized goal plans for their lives. At Breakthrough, we don’t stop at finding a suitable place for a participant or a family; we work with them to secure and provide the essentials needed to create a home.

affordable housing first program


When a new guest comes in, we listen to their needs. It’s so much more than checking off boxes; we want them to know we are interested in who they are, what their goals are, and what they need to feel supported. It’s about leveling the playing field, so participants know they are the experts and we are here to serve them. We let them lead the conversation, we don’t assume that we know their needs and experiences.

Breakthrough is developing strong partnerships with developers in the area to create new housing opportunities. We seek to work with local landlords that understand the priority of housing first to create housing in the area that is dignifying and affordable. Our service doesn’t end with our guest’s living arrangements; we are able to help them address other issues like medical and mental health, substance abuse disorder and financial well-being through the community relationships and partnerships we’ve fostered.

In understanding trauma and its effects on our community, our goal is to create an atmosphere where our participants receive the assistance they need in an environment that will be beneficial and cause them no further harm. We aim to work with participants to help them develop strong problem solving and self management skills.

We’ve helped 42 participants and 11 families find and secure permanent housing. By the end of the 2018, 100 percent of these participants remained housed and 51 percent increased or maintained their income.

Our program’s success is the result of what happens when you support housing as a basic need and allow people to be the experts of their lives. While we are making strides in our community, there is much more work to be done.

affordable housing first program


By 2022, in accordance to Breakthrough’s Strategic Plan, we look to increase families served through our permanent supportive housing program from 11 to 30 and foster more partnerships to support vulnerable young adults from ages 18 to 24.

We know this work is ambitious, and it will take time. But we are committed to this community and working with residents to improve their lives and revitalize the neighborhood.