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HUD awards funding to Cornerstone Services to address homelessness in Will County

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a check valued at $856,220 to Cornerstone Services to help address homelessness in Will County among those with HIV, AIDS and mental health problems.

A check presentation took place Tuesday at the office of the Joliet-area social service agency.

Among those at Cornerstone Services to learn of the funding announcement were Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and Will County Board Member Annette Parker.

The grant will help the social service agency to support its clients who live and/or work in the community.

Officials said Cornerstone Services has received financial assistance from HUD’s Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program for several years.

“These services are important because sometimes life takes turns that we can’t predict or explain,” Cornerstone Services CEO Ben Stortz said. “Homelessness, mental health conditions and life-threatening illnesses make it a tremendous challenge [to get ahead.] Fortunately, organizations—like ours—already provide the supports they need beginning with securing housing, because it’s hard to get ahead when you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep every night.”

The grant funding enables Cornerstone to help those with AIDS/HIV to obtain stable housing through rental assistance, and case management, employment assistance and mental health and healthcare services through coordination with local agencies, officials said. Currently, the program services 16 people locally.

Joseph Galvan, the Midwest regional administrator for HUD, said the federal government is doing its part to address homelessness among those with HIV, AIDS and mental health problems.

“Earlier this summer, we had announced grants nationally awarding over $25 million to assist more than 2,054 low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families over a three-year period, and that [benefits about] 20 local programs, including this one,” he said.

HOPWA is the only federal program dedicated to making grants available to local communities, states and non-profit organizations for projects that benefit low-to-moderate income persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families, officials said.

“When you’re competing at a national level [for funding,] the one thing you look at are the results,” Galvan said. “Are people being assisted? Are you spending your money effectively, efficiently?”

Galvan said it’s clear that Cornerstone Services is changing people’s lives.

“We talk about respect and we talk about dignity,” he said. “I have a sense that, here, at Cornerstone you’re living out the message [to show] respect and dignity to make sure that everyone has a home who needs it.”

Stortz credits the efforts made by Cornerstone Services to address homelessness, in part, to funding provided by HUD.

“Their HOPWA grants, specifically for people with HIV and AIDS, has certainly saved countless lives,” he said.

Yvette Easterling, a client of Cornerstone Services, expressed appreciation for the work of the social service agency.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t know where I’d be right now,” she said.

Easterling said she became homeless years ago while living in the city of Chicago. Since 2005, she has been a client of Cornerstone Services.

“The real credit’s to you and the differences you’ve made,” Stortz said. “You should be proud of your accomplishments.”

At Cornerstone Services, staff helps in “providing the support necessary for individuals with disabilities to live and work in the community,” according to its website. The social services agency has been serving the needs of the Joliet-area community since 1969.

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