Climbing stairs isn’t easy for Tony Ware. Dressed in a yellow Austin Powers T-shirt, blue jeans and black ballet flats, the 55-year-old woman huffs and puffs her way up to the third-floor apartment she calls home.
The word “home” is significant because Ware has not had one in nearly 20 years. A series of losses triggered her descent into homelessness. She lost both of her parents in one year. The next year, her husband, who was in the military, was sent overseas to Cuba.
In the months after he left, Ware, while suffering from manic depression, discovered crack cocaine and, in her words, “created a monster.” That monster led her into a 16-year battle with addiction and prostitution.
For a while she stayed with her eldest daughter, LaMina. That was until Ware was arrested in front of her grandchildren. She went to prison and subsequently lost custody of her 13-year-old daughter, Monique, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. Eventually, LaMina asked Tony to leave.
“They said, –˜Momma, this is tough love,'” Ware said.
Today, she’s been clean for four years. Once she got straightened out, she got her daughter back.
Ware thinks about her prior attempts at recovery. She tried to enroll in a drug treatment program, but was told she wasn’t eligible because she wasn’t high. She went to 59th and Ashland, prostituted herself for the money, bought crack cocaine, smoked it and then checked herself into treatment.
Her current housing program, run by Catholic Charities, requires her to be clean. She relapsed once in the program, left for a 30-day treatment program, and returned. She has been sober since.
Ware’s program is recognized by the city as permanent housing with shortterm support. Under the city’s guidelines, such housing programs allow women like Ware to move into permanent housing and get case management and subsidized rent. She was lucky. At the end of last year, there were about 500 units citywide, and about half were available for families. The city counts these units as permanent housing under the Plan to End Homelessness, but does not fund the program Ware participates in. Her rent is subsidized by private donations, church sponsorship and federal money.
The catch is that under this model, rental support expires after two years. Ware’s time is up at the end of August, and her rent will be $700. She has been unable to find work and can’t afford the rent with her monthly Social Security check of $574.
Ware’s caseworker, Erie Crawford, says that Ware would have more options if she were single. Ware asks her caseworker if she could fit the criteria. “You have Shai Shai,” Crawford answers, referring to Monique’s pet name.
Monique loves Beyonce. She loves having her own room. She hates moving.
“That’s the big struggle in Chicago,” said Crawford. “They need to create something that’s more permanent for families, and then people like Tony wouldn’t have to move away to [North Carolina].”
Monique doesn’t want to, but that’s the plan for now: Ware hopes to find housing with family near Fayetteville.
For a few more months, Ware can look out her window and watch Monique walk the one block from home to school. Then, in September, home will change again.