Lawndale man finds hope in the basement of a church

By Pat Nabong and Hammad Sarfraz

Although fewer people experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2016 compared to the previous year, nearly six thousand still live on the streets and in shelters. Bernard Johnson is one of them.

The former stockbroker and Lawndale resident says he lost everything and everyone he cherished during a long battle with drugs. Eventually, Johnson found himself without a home and without a family.

“Drugs all they do is seek, kill and destroy,” he said.

Although Johnson, 58, mostly slept on people’s couches and lived temporarily in shelters, there are many like him who have experienced long stretches of living on the streets

In an annual count of Chicago’s homeless, there were 5,889 homeless people in 2016, according to the city’s point-in-time survey report. More than 4,000 of them lived in shelters. Twenty-eight percent of the more than 1,000 unsheltered individuals had a history of substance use, compared to 22 percent of the sheltered population.

Johnson now lives temporarily in Lincoln Park Community Center Shelter, which is located in the basement of a church. After years of struggling with drug addiction and moving from shelter to shelter, he started being active in the church itself. He now heads bible study groups and attends AA meetings regularly. He has also found a community in the church’s congregation.

Johnson hopes to move out of the shelter in March.

“You’re going to go through the struggles of life,” he said. “But it’s what’s in your heart. It’s what’s inside of you. I wasn’t the only person that was struggling. It’s ‘how long did I want to struggle?’ That’s what it came down to.”

Photo at top: Bernard Johnson has breakfast with friends at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. Jan. 21, 2017. (Pat Nabong/MEDILL)