By her own account, Keisha Wallace has been every type of homeless: She has bounced around friends’ couches, stayed in shelters and slept on the train overnight. Wallace, who suffers from chronic seizures, is hospitalized five to six times a month, frequenting emergency rooms around Chicago.
But her circumstances changed dramatically recently when she received the keys to her own apartment. Wallace is among the first residents to be housed through the Flexible Housing Pool, a collaboration among public and private health care and housing entities around Chicago that targets homeless “superusers” of emergency services including hospitals, emergency rooms, jails and shelters.
The program places residents in supportive subsidized housing in apartments across the county and connects them with nearby social and health services. The idea is to get them the help they need on a noncrisis basis — which tends to be better for the recipients and the agencies that serve them.
Wallace, 44, is the mother of a 16-year-old daughter. Originally from St. Louis, she moved to the city to attend Columbia College, where she majored in music for a year. Since then, she has worked a variety of jobs, including managing a Starbucks, performing massage therapy and giving tours of Chicago on a double-decker bus, while pursuing her passion for music.
In 2013, while giving a tour, her bus was involved in a crash, she said. Since then, Wallace said, she has had three to five seizures a week. Unable to hold down a job, Wallace eventually found herself homeless.
“I went from someone who was rarely ever sick to someone who was being hospitalized five to six times a month,” she said, recalling seizures on public transportation and at work, and sometimes waking up in emergency rooms.
To Wallace, an apartment of her own symbolizes a newfound stability and safety. She’s gone back to recording music and plans to release two small projects before the end of the year under her stage name, K. Ladawn.
Her empty apartment echoes, but Wallace doesn’t mind. It will be furnished soon, again thanks to the Flexible Housing Pool, but in the meantime she said she has enjoyed flopping down on her air mattress at the end of the day, finally in a space to call her own.
“It represents me being able to show my daughter that we don’t just get problems, we work through them too,” she said, beaming and jingling her keys.
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