Nancy Avila and Guillermo Vilchas gesture excitedly, speaking rapidly in English and Spanish as they tell visitors about their recent decorating adventures… something neither would have dreamt about a year ago.

Until recently, Nancy and Guillermo called the streets of Miami home. Now, they are are living in a single bedroom apartment as part of a Camillus House program designed to help persons overcome homelessness.

Thanks to a grant through the Miami Dade County Homeless Trust, Camillus House is providing 65 one- bedroom apartments for single adults suffering from chronic homelessness over a two-year period.

The Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team model serves homeless men and women and helps improve the range of care already offered by Camillus House.

In order to be eligible for this housing and treatment program, clients must meet the HUD definition of chronic homelessness – homeless for a year or longer (or experienced four episodes of homelessness in three years) and have a disabling condition – a physical, mental, or substance abuse problem, or a combination of these.

Camillus House chose this approach, according to Hilda Fernandez, CEO of Camillus House, “because the ACT Team Model has proven to be effective with people who are chronically mentally ill. Our goal is to house people who are living on the streets.

We know that living on the streets exacerbates all illnesses, including people living with mental illness. By providing housing and wrap around services we can help stabilize people emotionally and end chronic homelessness.”

“Some of the clients we have have been homeless for more than a decade,” according to Ms. Fernandez, “so it’s as if they’re living inside the walls of an apartment for the first time. We try to make that experience for them as positive as it can be.”

To facilitate that goal, a full complement of professionals make up the ACT Team and work in tandem to make the transition from street living to apartment living a seamless and positive experience for their clients.

“The goal is to empower each client and help them feel that they are a very important part of this program,” explained Ms. Katherine Martinez, Director of Community Housing. “after all, this program is all about helping the clients.”

And changing individual lives, like Nancy and Guillermo’s. For five years, both made their home under a bridge, forced to survive on the street after the death of Nancy’s mother. “When she passed away, the rent went too high and I wasn’t able to afford to pay the rent with what I get with disability,” she recalled sadly.

Today they are very grateful for the assistance they receive from Camillus House. “You have your key for your own house, you just come in, open your own door, nobody bothers you,” Nancy explains while Guillermo nods his agreement. “You can cook, you can sleep, you can take a shower, you can eat.”

Simple things, maybe, but profound blessings the way Nancy, Guillermo, and many others, once homeless, see it.

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