South Shore family’s apartment turns into ‘happy place’

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In South Shore, the Perez family left their 2-bedroom apartment at 9 a.m. Wednesday with only a hospital bed and the bare necessities inside, but by 2 p.m. it was transformed into a fully furnished and meticulously designed home .

Beaches and waterfronts have always provided Jesenia Perez with a sense of comfort, reminders of when she lived in Puerto Rico and views of Lake Michigan from her daughter’s hospital room. That’s what inspired the sandy tones and teals that Humble Design brought into their home on Wednesday.

“It makes me feel like I’m in my happy place,” Perez said.

Humble Design, which helps families in affordable housing take ownership of their spaces, has transformed nearly 500 homes since their inception in 2017, according to director Julie Dickinson. Every week they build three houses with about 150 volunteers.

Once a family is selected with the help of partner agencies, including those who run homeless shelters, the process begins about a week before reveal day, with a site visit and conversation. with the family. On the big day, a team of volunteers swarms the apartment for six hours, arranging furniture, hanging curtains and putting pictures in frames before the family returns.

Perez said a safe and comfortable home is key to ensuring she can provide care for her 4-year-old Julianiz Sofia Oliveras, who has TBCK syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes low muscle tone. and requires round-the-clock care.

“We had nothing,” Perez said of the apartment before it was transformed. “I didn’t want to be here; I wanted to feel more at home.

When the family had no stable accommodation, Julianiz had to stay in hospital.

“I wanted her to be stable. I wanted her to be home, but through the things we were going through with our apartments, it was preventing them from giving her to me to come home to,” Perez said.

Jesenia Perez is moved when she sees the master bedroom she shares with her youngest daughter, Julianiz Oliveras, after it was renovated by Humble Design on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRivière/Sun-Times

A corner of the master bedroom has been personalized for Julianiz, with medical supplies next to his favorite musical toys and artwork from his favorite show, “Cocomelon,” hanging above his crib.

“She’s going to be so happy in her crib now,” Perez said.

The beauty is in the details, according to designer Natalie Daemi. She said she navigated her way through the maze of Humble Design’s warehouse, choosing light blue vases, seashell-inspired candle holders and coastal frames to hold their family photos.

“You can tell they are really happy people despite their difficulties,” Daemi said. “They have so much love for each other.”

A photo of Jesenia Perez and her family sits on a table as Humble Design workers frantically clean after remodeling Jesenia Perez's apartment on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

A photo of Jesenia Perez and her family sits on a table as Humble Design workers frantically clean after remodeling Jesenia Perez’s apartment on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRivière/Sun-Times

Dickinson said listening to and tracking what families want in their homes is an essential part of the process.

She called it a “trauma-informed” way of conceiving, “listening and caring and listening, then showing you’ve listened…and acting on what you say you’re going to do.” .

And, according to Dickinson, the process is working. The group checks in with families a year after their reveal day and 95-99% are still at home.

Dickinson said she experienced homelessness as a child in the northwest suburbs, so she knows how much little things — like having her own bathroom mirror — can mean to a child.

“There was a family that spent two years in a shelter, and for years they lived in a tent under the bridge,” Dickinson said, but when they saw their new home, “there’s this little when they stand in the bathroom together and they throw all their hair in the mirror, and it’s just magical.

Dickinson said she wants to see affordable housing reform to bring more families into their own space.

“It’s beyond cruelty to me that we have kids … sleeping on the floor, and we have mothers who struggle to figure out where they’re going to be day-to-day,” Dickinson said.

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