The Will to Change: William’s Story

Ask William Bouzek about Chicago history. And, be prepared for extraordinary insight that comes from more than just a passing interest. A native Chicagoan, William has spent a lifetime absorbing interesting and little-known facts about many of the city’s historical places and events – especially Chicago’s old theaters and movie houses.

William grew up in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood, the youngest of four children. He worked in the Rack House of the Chicago Tribune where he assembled and delivered newspaper distribution boxes.

With mental health challenges and a substance use disorder, William found it very difficult to maintain employment. He turned to crime to feed his addictions and ended up serving time in jail. Because of his troubles, William was not able to live with his parents, so his sister took him into her home to live with her and her son. She and William were very close until she passed away after a long battle with cancer. The loss of his sister was very difficult for William.

After his sister’s death, William experienced the loss of his girlfriend and both his parents. Although, he was able to reconcile from a difficult relationship with his father while caring for him at the end of his life, William was unable to find a way to cope with the number of significant losses he had experienced.

Devastated and depressed – William’s addictions grew worse and he ended up living on the streets.

For nine months, William lived under the viaduct at Ashland and North Ave. He had a mattress to sleep on and a few blankets to keep him warm, which hardly made a difference against Chicago’s harsh winters. It was during this time that William was involved in a terrible car accident that nearly ended his life.

“The doctors at the hospital said this accident should have killed me,” William says. “It was a real wake-up call.” “I realized then that I still had more to do with my life.”

After the accident, William returned to live under the viaduct. But something was different – he knew he wanted to change his life. He was determined to get help. It was then that William heard about Franciscan Outreach.

William entered the Franciscan Outreach Wicker Park location to use the phone – but he ended up with much more. He began attending dinner each night at the soup kitchen and using the support services during the day. He took advantage of the laundry services, shower facilities and mail services. And then William met Jonathan Dargatz, his case manager.

“Jonathan saved my life,” says William.

Jonathan began assisting William by first understanding his needs. With Jonathan’s help, William was able to obtain identification, his birth certificate, a social security card, a free public transportation pass, food stamps, Medicaid, and legal assistance to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

Jonathan encouraged William to set daily goals, like moving into a safer and more stable environment. William took Jonathan’s advice and transitioned from sleeping under the viaduct to staying at the Franciscan Outreach shelter on Chicago’s West Side.

While at the shelter, William had a safe place to sleep and a hot meal every night. He also consulted with doctors at the on-site health clinic, which operates in partnership with Rush University Medical Center. The doctors provided William with a referral to address a serious medical condition.

William also received referrals for his mental health challenges and substance use disorder. Jonathan helped William get into the Mental Health Substance Abuse (MHSA) Program at Family Guidance Centers for Methadone treatment and counseling. William began treatment and started attending regular individual and group meetings, which helped to reduce his withdrawal symptoms.

“When I began the Methadone treatment, I realized that heroin is not the problem. Why do you use heroin? That’s the problem. I had a lot of losses I’d never dealt with,” William shares.

Eager to help others in similar situations, William joined the Franciscan Outreach Guest Council. The Guest Council is a group of individuals receiving support who work with staff to make the Franciscan Outreach guest experience the best it can be. The council meets monthly to discuss how to make services more efficient, safer and more accessible for all who need them.

The next goal for William was to transition into permanent housing. William waited and hoped for a place of his own. Even though Jonathan was able to place William on a waiting list for permanent housing, it’s often a very long and tiresome process. It took over a year for William to receive the good news. He was accepted into a government program that provides subsidized housing for people who have been experiencing chronic homelessness.

After years of living without a home, William was able to move into a studio apartment of his own. Franciscan Outreach provided him with a Welcome Home Kit full of many of the essentials for moving into a new home. And, Jonathan assisted William with locating free home furnishings through local sources.

“I have keys in my pocket!” William exclaims. “This is the first time in my life I’ve actually had a place of my own.” “When I go home and turn that lock, I can take a shower. I’m safe. I’m secure. I’m warm.” “I don’t take that for granted. It’s pretty amazing!”   

William now reflects on how far he has come from the days when he lived under the viaduct and couldn’t see a way out from all the challenges he faced in his life.

“There are so many obstacles I’ve been able to overcome with the help of Franciscan Outreach,” William says. “It’s hard to believe it’s actually going to get better, but it does if you work at it.” “It was my own will, combined with the support of this place that changed my life.”

So, what does the future hold for William? He is working with Jonathan on developing his long-term goals. William shares that he would like to use his life experiences to help others. One of the opportunities he’s exploring is to further his education to become a Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor (CADC). Through his own sheer will and the ongoing support from Franciscan Outreach, William is well on his way to accomplishing his goals and continuing to make positive, lasting changes in his life.