Since its beginnings in 1984, the nonprofit organization Inner Voice has supported socially and economically disadvantaged Chicagoans in their quest to obtain self-reliance and a place to call home. As the city’s largest single agency serving single adults and families, Inner Voice assists more than 13,000 homeless people each year by providing emergency and transitional shelter.

Through its services and outreach, Inner Voice has evolved to accommodate the complex needs of the residents it serves and the passion behind the mission has never wavered. 

“For decades the team at Inner Voice has carried out this mission by leading from the heart,” Inner Voice CEO Jacqueline Edens says. “But our hearts aren’t necessarily good at fixing the mechanical systems in our resident homes.”

When Edens became CEO in 2012, she outlined a variety of short- and long-term goals for the future of Inner Voice — from prioritizing deferred maintenance and facility improvements to bookkeeping and fundraising. Edens says she placed two of Inner Voice’s transitional housing facilities on the schedule for repairs and renovations: the Eddie Beard Veterans’ Transitional Housing Program and the Pioneer House serving homeless adult men.

The Eddie Beard program provides housing for 15 homeless military veterans for up to 24 months and assists them in finding permanent income and housing. That’s also the mission of the Pioneer House, an interim housing program that provides shelter to 13 residents (both veterans and non-veterans). Both the Eddie Beard veterans’ home and the Pioneer House were in need of numerous repairs to better serve residents and make the housing facilities more energy efficient.

For its role in the renovation, A. O. Smith volunteered to replace the aging hot-water systems in both buildings. The Eddie Beard home is a three-story structure with common living spaces and a kitchen at street level, community-style rooms and bathrooms on the second and third floors, and laundry in the basement. The Pioneer House is a two-story structure with a similar layout.

At capacity, each building can house a dozen or more residents. The previous water heaters had been struggling to deliver enough hot water for showers, laundry, cleaning and food preparation.

To meet the hot-water needs, a 75-gal. Vertex 100 power direct-vent gas water heater was specified for each home. With a recovery rate of 129 gal. per hour, the Vertex water heater is engineered to generate a constant flow of 4 gpm, and can support more than four showers at a time.

And even with its 100,000 Btu/h gas burner, the ENERGY STAR-qualified Vertex delivers a thermal efficiency of 96% and a Uniform Energy Factor of 0.86 that will help reduce energy costs, Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago Program Manager Chad Ruckauf notes. RTMC is a volunteer organization dedicated to providing repairs for low-income homeowners, schools, community centers and shelters that serve in-need neighborhoods.

“The existing water heaters had very slow recovery times,” Ruckauf says. “They weren’t keeping up with the demand of 15 people trying to shower in the morning and go to work.”

“I’m an architect and I’m very familiar with A. O. Smith’s efficiency,” he says. “The Vertex units will make a big difference for these residents. They can focus on getting back on their feet and the staff doesn’t have to worry about whether there’s enough hot water.”

Through a sponsorship with Sears’ Heroes at Home program for military veterans, RTMC was looking to partner with a nonprofit agency working on housing issues with veterans who also had facilities in need of improvements.

“We chose to work with Inner Voice because it’s the right fit,” Ruckauf says. “They do an excellent job of helping the underserved population here in Chicago and they really care about what they do.

Edens says: “These renovations at Pioneer House and the Eddie Beard Veteran’s House are a dream come true for the Inner Voice. It would be a nearly insurmountable task for Inner Voice to purchase this many products for these homes and find professional installers to complete these upgrades in this brief amount of time. Our gratitude is beyond description.

“These residents haven’t had this much attention paid to their needs in a single weekend in a very long time, possibly ever. The new appliances will be greatly appreciated and reliable hot water for their showers — they’re going to love it.”