Peter Hoffman documents an Illinois home that helps refugees take the next step towards establishing a stable new life in the U.S.
On December 9, 2006, Bryan Guzman, a student at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, died in a tragic accident while walking his girlfriend’s dog on the frozen shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Bryan’s older brother Rick Guzman and his wife, Desiree, had been housing members of the refugee population of the western suburbs of Chicago for years prior to Bryan’s sudden death. As members of World Relief, a Christian aid and development organization, Rick and Desiree used to allow select families to live in their basement or in an extra room while the families saved money. Motivated by their loss and by Bryan’s dedicated relationship to several refugee families they had helped over the years, Rick and Desiree decided to establish a home for refugees as a tribute. They called it “Bryan House.”
Through an outpouring of community and local church support, the Guzmans were able to acquire a century-old, five-unit brick apartment building in Aurora, Illinois, just south of downtown. Bryan House has housed twelve families in the last four years. Refugees from the Dominican Republic, Congo, Iraq, Eritrea, Togo, Mauritania, Burundi, Kenya, and Bhutan, have called Bryan House home as they worked to find more permanent bearings. Seven families have “graduated” to homeownership or significant college savings. Sada, the first successful occupant of Bryan House, used his savings to attend the electrical engineering program at Ohio State University while living with family in Columbus.
Officially purchased on December 18, 2007, barely a year after Bryan’s passing, Bryan House has slowly become fully occupied. Although refugees pay a monthly rent that reflects current standard market rates in the area, the total sum will be returned to them once they move out after a year or more of residency. In order for families to participate in this program, they must go through an application process and are subsequently held accountable for keeping up with their financial obligations. This program rewards those who are already working hard. With the slow but measured success of Bryan House, a second building was secured, and two families currently occupy a new building called Emmanual House, with two apartments being rehabbed for more occupants.
Peter Hoffman lives and works in the suburbs of Chicago. His work has been exhibited across the U.S. and his editorial clients include Monocle, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, The FADER, and The New York Times. He recently returned from spending a few months in Christchurch, New Zealand where he was working on a project dealing with the constant earthquake activity in the area.