For three years, Guadalupe Castellanos served as a housing counselor at the Spanish Community Center.
Veronica Gloria said that, during that time, Castellanos had many multicultural clients, especially on the east side of Joliet.
Last year, an opportunity arose for Castellanos to serve more clients and provide more options.
That’s because the Community Services Council of Northern Will County reached out to the Spanish Community Center and suggested partnering, said Bob Kalnicky, executive director of CSC.
“She [Castellanos] had gone through a lot of training and was doing a fine job,” Kalnicky said. “But she didn’t have access to the funding and grants we use as a HUD-approved [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] agency.
“So we talked about partnering and how we could do things. It just made sense for her to become an employee of our organization and bring all our resources to the Spanish Community Center.”
This means CSC now is helping “close to 100 clients a month” instead of 50 to 60, Kalnicky said. And Castellanos is serving “more clients than ever” at the Spanish Community Center, he said.
“It’s worked out great for both of us,” Kalnicky said.
Despite having Will County in its name, CSC said it sees clients from all over Illinois, including residents of Kane, Kendall and Grundy counties.
“We’ve had clients drive two hours one way to come see us,” Kalnicky said.
CSC’s four housing counselors, which now include Castellanos, are all approved by HUD, which enabled them to offer more programs to their clients.
Castellanos still sees clients at the Spanish Community Center, except now she works for CSC instead of sending them there, Gloria said.
That’s why, when CSC reached out to the Spanish Community Center to discuss partnering in the program, Gloria was for it.
“At that point, we weren’t sure how to continue with the housing program just because it [becoming certified by HUD] does take a lot of special certifications, and it’s a very long process,” Gloria said.
“They [CSC] already had experience with it. We thought, ‘[Let’s not duplicate] the services of going through that long certification process,’ and they thought, ‘Why don’t we offer those services here at your location and with your organizational support.’ ”
Gloria said the partnership with CSC is making a huge difference in the lives of Spanish Community Center clients.
“Housing is really one of the top issues people come in for,” Gloria said. “We see people at the point of homelessness, and we see people at the opposite end: People who are really doing well and are about to buy their first home for the first time. And she’s able to help people in a variety of situations.”
Gloria said Castellanos is now familiar with a wider variety of housing programs than in the past, especially with the Illinois Hardest Hit Program, a mortgage assistance program for struggling homeowners to help prevent homelessness.
“It’s for those who are falling behind in their mortgage payments because of changes in the direction of their lives due to no fault of their own,” Gloria said. “They could have been laid off, injured, been divorced. It could have been the death of a spouse.”
Gloria said clients might struggle meeting multiple needs. A client might need housing and childcare or a client might need housing and help with a domestic abuse case. The partnership with the CSC makes it easier for the center to meet a variety of needs.
“This has been a smart partnership. It’s benefiting the community,” Gloria said. “I hope it continues to help those in Joliet.”
“I had to get five different certificates in five different programs,” Castellanos said. “But this gives the client quality services and more detail for them to be not only more knowledgeable about their situation, but to empower them to change as well.”
Castellanos feels she makes the biggest impact in finding ways for families facing foreclosure to remain in their homes so that the “families remain stable.”
Barring that, Castellanos works with clients to find rental housing in the same school district.
Not only does it “keep them off the streets,” children aren’t switching schools and making new friends, which can be hard for them, especially when done mid-year, Castellanos said.
Otherwise, said Christina Sanchez, director of housing and financial counseling, families face splitting up and living with other relatives.
“If we cannot help them, we will find an agency or resource to assist them,” Sanchez said. “We keep up-to-date on every nonprofit agency in the area that offers assistance.”
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