Made in Uptown: Sarah’s Circle

Since 1979, Sarah’s Circle has provided crucial services to thousands of women experiencing homelessness. Uptown United spoke with Executive Director Katherine Ragnar about supporting Chicago’s most vulnerable residents and addressing that, in Chicago, 2,844 women are homeless on any given night.

Fact is, while homelessness is difficult for anyone, women become homeless for reasons different than men. The combination of trauma, domestic violence, sexual assault, and a gender wage gap exacerbate their risk. Worse, the stress of living on the street is doubled by a lack of access to personal hygiene and an ever-present risk of assault.

Thus, Sarah’s Circle aims to be a place of hope for women who have been through tremendous ordeals by the time they come to them. The staff works hard to provide not just housing, but also support and a sense of belonging, which begins with people not being defined by their lack of housing. Katherine says it’s critical to remember that to be homeless is not part of one’s identity but that he or she is merely experiencing homelessness. This is a subtle, but powerful way to recognize a person’s humanity and a step towards empowering them.

Katherine also emphasizes that the ladies need safety as much if not more than others. These women want a safer neighborhood more than anybody because they in fact are the most vulnerable. For those who come to Sarah’s Circle, feeling safe is key in them being able to recover and thrive.

To that end, Sarah’s Circle works to be firmly integrated in the neighborhood and act as a good neighbor. Their 25 employees and over 300 volunteers and interns mean more eyes on the street and more people shopping locally. In fact, an Uptown United survey found that the area’s many social service agencies bring thousands of jobs and millions in spending to Uptown.

Today, Sarah’s Circle serves close to 1,000 women annually. The ultimate goal is to end homelessness, but in the interim Sarah’s Circle works to alleviate the pain these women experience and ultimately, the goal of the agency is to end homelessness for women in Chicago. Sarah’s Circle provides over 62,000 meals a year, plus laundry, showers, lockers. It runs a daytime support center open to any woman in need, a 50-bed interim housing program for women currently homeless, and permanent supportive housing for women with a disabling condition who have been chronically homeless.

Since many of the women they work with have mental health issues that have been the predominate cause of homelessness, Sarah’s Circle is strategic in providing clinical services, which include art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy. Additionally, the agency provides one on one counseling, as well as group therapy. Plus, there are many holiday parties and events that let people socialize and just have fun. All this builds trust and support that help a woman stay housed for the long term.

And, for Katherine & her team, having even one woman be homeless is one too many. Thus, the agency is expanding its footprint by rehabilitating a dilapidated building at Leland and Sheridan. Katherine knows it will be a long process, but worth the effort in order to have fewer women endure homelessness.

So visit their website or donate money or supplies. Come share your talent with the ladies to help brighten their day and advocate for more resources. Help Sarah’s Circle end homelessness for women in Chicago!