Blue Island recovery center opens doors to people facing homelessness due to pandemic unemployment

BLUE ISLAND, Ill. (WLS) -- An organization in Blue Island that helps people facing homelessness due to drug and alcohol addiction is now seeing a disturbing trend of people with nowhere to go due to the pandemic.

Affordable Recovery Housing has been a resource for people throughout the Chicago area who are homeless because of drug and alcohol addiction, founded in 2003 by John Dunleavy who is himself a recovering drug addict.

"The only way I'm going to stay sober is by helping people," he said.

John and his wife Mary Joe expanded their organization and relocated to the former Mother of Sorrows High School in Blue Island in 2011.

"We're a walking miracle in that two people who used to get high together have been together for so long," Mary Jo Dunleavy said.

Affordable Recovery Housing has 300 beds available for adult men and women, and is structured to get them back on their feet by not only providing shelter but also meals, employment opportunities and even transportation to jobs.

Residents can stay there as long as they need. Patrick Nichols has been a resident for nearly two years.

"For one thing, I'm not homeless, and if I had not found this place I would have been homeless," Nichols said.

It's an expensive business model, and residents who get jobs pay the center up to $225 a week if they work full time. Right now, the facility is half full. Staff members hope to address what they call a disturbing trend of people facing homelessness because the pandemic cost them their jobs.

"For us to be able to open our doors to them when a lot of people don't, I think that's very important," said Cheryl Smith, resident at Affordable Housing Recovery.

The Dunleavys said their mission is to wipe out homelessness, an ambition made even more challenging with the COVID-19 pandemic taking its toll on society.
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