“In my storage unit, I was too cold to rest. I wanted a place to lay my head down and sleep. I would wrap up in ten blankets, trying to get warm.”
Denise seems to have an endless abundance of joy. She’s a very petite woman in her late 50s with bright eyes and a wide, welcoming smile. She exudes positivity and wields an upbeat personality. Denise had a solid and consistent work history. For 30 years, she worked at a major Chicago company. In 1979, she began a part-time position in the mailroom. During her years on the job, she got promoted twelve times, working her way up to full-time Engineering Clerk. After taking early retirement and giving funds to her son to pay for his college education, Denise felt she needed to return to work to make ends meet. She found a job as a secretary for a moving company. After a few years, that company relocated to Florida. Denise found herself unemployed and alone. Too young for social security but old enough to experience age discrimination when looking for work, she knew she needed help.
Finding a job proved difficult. Denise eventually lost her apartment. She had an outdoor storage space that measured 10 feet by 10 feet in a lot on the south side of Chicago. It held all the items from the apartment she lost, and with nowhere else to live, Denise moved into it. Without any heat and only a few flashlights for light, Denise prayed, read her Bible, and cried a river in that storage unit. Keeping clean was a real challenge. When she tried to wash up in a public restroom, she endured looks and comments from people who seemed to fear or despise her. Her former life was utterly lost.
Denise stayed in her storage unit for three long years and throughout notoriously harsh Chicago winters. She often rode the public transit system to escape the cold. “I was tired of riding the buses to stay warm, but no one ever robbed me. An angel must have been sitting beside me.” Throughout those years, Denise hid these circumstances from her son, who lived out of state.
Hard-working, sweet, and struggling to survive, Denise had been forced so far out on the margins of society that she couldn’t find her way back. This past January, Denise arrived at Cornerstone. After three years of living alone, one would think that Denise would find sharing a shelter space with 74 other women at Naomi Shelter nearly impossible. Not so! Denise soon began to encourage women younger than herself, giving wisdom and helping to defuse tense situations.
While at Cornerstone, Denise felt that God told her, “I’m giving you the rope, but it’s up to you to grab ahold and pull yourself up.” She did just that. With the help of her case manager, Denise completed security guard training, earned her PERC (Permanent Employment Registration Card), and got a full-time job as a security officer. When speaking about Naomi Shelter staff, Denise said, “They supported me. The case managers got to know me and took time with me. I felt they respected me.”
For the last eight months, Denise has worked full-time as a security officer for a domestic violence shelter that serves women with children. She enjoys her work immensely. The day Denise moved into her apartment, she shouted, “Lord, You have been good to me!” She then sat down and cried tears of gratitude.
Denise’s story is about age discrimination, isolation, and hope. Although she had a solid work history and experience, Denise struggled to find a job which caused her long stretch of homelessness. She sees her arrival at Cornerstone as a turning point in her life. Once she had shelter and support, she climbed out of the situation she was stuck in. We have been blessed by her stay and applaud the employer that saw what we see in Denise – a resilient, enthusiastic, hard-working woman who simply needed a job.
- Denise Hardy, as told to Beth Nicholls, originally published on November 25, 2015
I hope you enjoyed reading how Denise moved from isolation in her storage unit to hope and opportunity at Cornerstone and beyond. CCO needs your support to continue the critical work of welcoming anyone experiencing homelessness. Please consider donating today. Your gift could transform lives and bring hope to those who need it most. Click here to visit our Donate Page.
- Beth Nicholls, Cornerstone Community Outreach