Last week I had the privilege of representing JOURNEYS at the Housing Matters Conference in Bloomington. This conference was held by Housing Action Illinois—a state-wide coalition of over 160 nonprofit, government, and corporate organizations dedicated to ending homelessness and expanding quality affordable housing throughout the state.
This conference brought together over 200 individuals from the social services, financial, and government realms to learn from and share experiences. There was an array of diverse programming connecting various issues in housing instability with state-wide and community-focused solutions.
Rates of chronic homelessness have increased across the state, and Continuums of Care (CoC) face challenges meeting the needs of their communities while themselves being supported. Homelessness is not a unique experience, and rural, suburban, and urban homelessness look different. To combat this, Governor Pritzker signed the Executive Order to Fight Homelessness in Illinois, which created the Illinois Interagency Task Force on Homelessness and The Community Advisory Council on Homelessness. The technical language boils down to “Home Illinois: Illinois’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” a 2-year collaborative plan focused on building affordable, supportive housing; bolstering the safety net; securing financial stability; and closing the mortality gap. While this plan cannot ensure that homelessness will never happen in Illinois, it can ensure that an individual’s housing insecurity will be “brief and one-time.”
Another fascinating conversation centered on medical respite care—acute and post-acute care for people experiencing homelessness who are not ill enough to remain in a hospital but are also too ill to recover on the streets. Often, the unhoused are unable to access healthcare and face shorter lifespans and higher rates of illnesses compared to their housed peers. Housing is healthcare.
Respite centers like The Boulevard, RISE Center of Cook County, and Sojourner House offer apartment-style quarters with private kitchens and bathrooms. These are not medical facilities, and they provide secure, dignified living arrangements so individuals can focus on healing and strengthening their physical and mental health for successful independent living. Because these individuals are often unhoused or at-risk of losing their homes, housing case managers and social workers coordinate with agencies to secure affordable housing and keep those at-risk in their homes; these providers also arrange clinical care, transportation, and other services for their clients. Overall, respite centers have proven to be cost-effective and tremendously beneficial; they truly are the future for providing quality services and eliminating health disparities for the unhoused.
My experience at the Housing Matters Conference has left me with new knowledge and a renewed desire to connect JOURNEYS with a wider community of advocates.
Through partnerships with other organizations in the coalition, JOURNEYS continues to grow, learn, and serve the unhoused and at-risk.
Written by Amanda Stocchetti, Grant Associate
This month, I talked to Katie, our Vocational Case Manager on our Clinical Team. Katie is one of our newer staff members, but her impact on our community has been nothing short of impressive. Take a look at what she had to say about her work here at JOURNEYS!
"This might sound like a cliché, but the most rewarding part of working at JOURNEYS for me has been helping people. I have been at JOURNEYS for about four months now, having recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, along with two minors in sociology and criminal justice. I also have a certificate in mental health skills. I really enjoy helping others with any types of stressors they might be experiencing. I find it very rewarding to be able to provide a bit of hope for those who may have lost it in their lives.
JOURNEYS provides the means to help clients overcome life setbacks. My work includes meeting directly with clients to help provide them with the proper resources they need in order to help them stabilize their lives. That includes helping clients get into our shelter programs, helping them look for work, providing a safe space to speak and work through issues that might be hindering their stabilization process, and assisting them to find more housing.
The staff at JOURNEYS all have great compassion towards others and genuinely want to help, but what truly inspires me is to see how clients often help each other. I have had clients assist other clients in various ways, such as offering to drive one another places, or helping to pay for gas if they’re able to do so. It’s very meaningful to me to see that even in times of personal struggle, our clients still go above and beyond for each other and take care of each other."
- Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
After 33 years of experience in serving the unhoused and at-risk of homelessness, JOURNEYS is well-versed in what homelessness is and looks like. However, not everyone agrees on how to define homelessness.
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Social Work, homelessness is defined as “the situation where someone lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." This definition, unfortunately, is not specific enough for all tracking agencies to record homelessness in the same way, causing disparities in accounting for homelessness to arise.
For instance, Chicago’s homelessness count for 2020 was interpreted in two drastically different ways: the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless counted doubled-up households, which are two or more households sharing a single residence, in their count and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) didn’t. While HUD only excluded one population, the contrast between the two organization’s final numbers is shocking. HUD totaled 5,390 people experiencing homelessness, but the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reported 65,611.
After adding the doubled-up households’ population to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ final estimate, their count included significantly more people than HUD’s, creating a very different picture of what homelessness looked like in January of 2020. Without the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ report, doubled-up households would not be considered as a population that needs support from government and homelessness agencies. This discrepancy is concerning since doubled-up households were the largest subpopulation recorded in 2020’s homelessness count for Chicago.
Recording homelessness is thus variable due to its loose definition, which causes misinformation to spread on the state of homelessness. Since HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes doubled-up households, people are left to believe that there are only 5,390 people needing homelessness support in Chicago, but this is not the full picture according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
This lack of congruity ultimately creates a problem for those tasked with eradicating homelessness since help cannot be administrated to all housing insecure people if some populations are being excluded. The question of whether or not doubled-up households should be included in the definition of homelessness is currently being debated, meaning there could be room for them in Oxford’s definition. If included, doubled-up households would also be eligible to receive homelessness support from the government and homelessness agencies focused on serving the unhoused in their area, just like any other homeless population.
Understanding which categories should make up the homelessness population is crucial in order to possess the right tools to fight homelessness. JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home understands this importance, giving all of its potential clients the opportunity to receive the services they need, no matter how they are experiencing homelessness. Our case managers communicate with our clients in order to alert JOURNEYS about their current needs as trends regarding homelessness support are always changing.
JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home promises to serve people enduring housing insecurities within its service area of 37 north and northwest suburban Cook County, and JOURNEYS will continue to work with its clients inclusively so they may receive the help they need.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS’ mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org and follow us on Facebook.
-Written by Baily Kearney, Grant Associate, edited by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
Meet our newest Board Member, Kevin Mathew, a former case manager at JOURNEYS who now works for the State of Illinois. We're so excited to bring Kevin on "Board"! Read below for more on Kevin's history and future with JOURNEYS!
"Social work is a field where you help others empower themselves. It’s such a diverse field. One social worker can help a person with resume-building assistance, while another could be working at a hospital.
I am currently working as a caseworker at the State of Illinois Department of Human Services. I help individuals who apply for state benefit programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medical Assistance, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). An interview must be done in order to see if a person is eligible for these benefits. I go through the customer’s application with them to review their information and see if there are any discrepancies.
It really is an honor to be partnering with JOURNEYS again. I worked at JOURNEYS back in 2017 as a vocational case manager, and I really enjoyed my time here. It was always such a great feeling to hear from a client that they obtained a job opportunity.
JOURNEYS was also a great place for me to build my skills as a social worker, and I really felt like I was making positive changes in my local community. So now that I am on the board, it feels like a continuation of the work I put in back in 2017, but now I get to bring a new perspective to the table.
I am glad that JOURNEYS for this opportunity, and it is truly an honor. As a new member, I am trying to soak in all the knowledge I can get from my fellow board members and how we as a team can empower those in our community even further. I think I bring a unique perspective to the board since I had previously worked at JOURNEYS, and I continue to work as a caseworker now. It allows me to share my experiences on the ground level of helping individuals in our local community. I am excited to attend my first board meeting and for the future of JOURNEYS!"
-Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
I talked with our Events Coordinator, Tara, about her life before JOURNEYS and how her experience in the theater industry has helped her to become a top-notch non-profit events coordinator.
Take a look at her amazing story and what she had to say!
"You just have to tailor what comes next in your life. I used to work in live theater. I was a professional stage manager for 20 years. I've worked all over regionally, from Brunswick, Maine; West Virginia; Florida; Pennsylvania; Upstate New York; Rhode Island; and Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve worked on West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Steel Magnolias. If you’ve seen a musical, I’ve probably worked on it!
Being a stage manager is being the person in charge backstage. You cue when the lights go, when the set moves – you're the puppet master. I don’t create what’s on stage, but I make it all happen. I keep the show consistent and running on time.
I actually ended up in Chicagoland because I was on tour. It was called Cruel Intentions: The ‘90s Musical. It was a lot of fun. We rehearsed in New York, then we went Upstate, then to Rhode Island for one night, and then we got on a plane and came to Chicago for two weeks. That was the first time I'd ever been to Chicago. I saw a little bit of Chicago and ended up coming back after the tour to see a friend, and thought “this has everything I love about New York without any of the things I don’t.” I fell in love with the place.
After working in Chicago theaters for a while, I ultimately left theater because I wanted a different pace. Working six, sometimes seven days a week is hard, and when you’re on tour you’re sleeping in buses or hotels, and it can be difficult to get time off. I ended up making a list of all the things I knew how to do, and then I typed those things into the computer and it suggested event coordinator as a career, since it’s practically the same thing as stage managing, which is pretty true. When I was in New York I also did a lot of charity fundraisers, like Broadway Backwards for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, as well as a World AIDS Day fundraiser event when I was in the New Paltz Players.
Being the events coordinator at JOURNEYS is interesting because you have to keep all the event balls in the air all the time. With the Superhero 5K, Women’s Luncheon, and Leap Into Hope. Then there’s the Annual Meeting and Golf Outing coming up. I feed them all a little bit every day.
This week I am researching party favors, projectors, and photo booth apps for Bid. Then I need to follow up with some donations for Bid as well and reach out to other donors. Sometimes there might be a site visit for a new venue, sometimes it's researching something that we need to buy for either the agency or for the event, sometimes it's securing sponsorships or donations. And then of course running the events! That’s when I really feel like I’m in my element. It’s like I’m backstage again."
-Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
JOURNEYS is dedicated to assisting all people in our service area experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. This means that sometimes we work with children and their families who are facing hardship, instability, and housing insecurity.
All too often, homelessness and discrimination go hand-in-hand. One of the unique problems that unhoused or at-risk youths face is the sudden instability not only of shelter and basic needs, but also of their education. When youths and/or their families become unhoused, they often seek refuge outside their immediate community. This movement can exacerbate transportation issues or become at odds with a school district’s residential boundaries. Students may even lack the necessary documentation to become registered at a school due to unstable housing or frequent moves.
Luckily, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act helps to ensure that students can maintain access to their education regardless of their housing status. Passed in 1987, the Act is federal, bipartisan legislation that helped to crystallize homelessness as a "national problem requiring a national response" (National Coalition for the Homeless).
One of the major affordances of the Act is that it allows students to attend their school of origin—the school they attended before they began experiencing homelessness—regardless of their current residence in that district. This measure is important because access to a familiar learning environment has benefits on a student’s social-emotional learning. Furthermore, the Act requires that schools provide transportation to all students—regardless of their residence in the school district they are attending—to make attendance possible, a significant measure since many unhoused and at-risk families lack reliable transportation.
JOURNEYS operates the School Advocacy Program in compliance with the McKinney-Vento Act to ensure that each unhoused and at-risk youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education as their housed peers. JOURNEYS serves 29 local school districts.
The first goal of JOURNEYS’ School Assistance Program focuses on enrollment and attendance. It is critical to ensure that children experiencing housing insecurities do not fall behind academically. The first step to ensure their success is enrolling them in school. Through the School Advocacy Program we are able to waive school fees, secure transportation, and remove red tape to get each child learning as soon as possible.
The second goal is to maintain continuity for students. Due to financial hardships, families that are housing unstable may have to stay outside of the school district’s geographic area temporarily. The School Advocacy Program ensures district residency restrictions are lifted so that each child can stay in a familiar learning environment, avoiding the trauma of bouncing from school to school.
The third goal is maintaining open communication between the school and family. School officials and teachers are often unaware of the hardships that a student may be facing both inside and outside of school when a family is housing insecure. Challenges can often manifest as poor academic performance, social exclusion, chronic absenteeism, and behavioral troubles. Case managers work with the school to make sure that issues are addressed and resolved quickly.
The JOURNEYS community works to support children and keep them in school. We believe that every child is deserving of the same opportunities and resources regardless of circumstances beyond their control.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS' mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org.
- Written by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate & Amanda Stocchetti, Grant Associate
I had the chance to sit down with Sue, one of our volunteers who works both at the front desk of the HOPE Center and with our PADS Program. In addition to her work with JOURNEYS, she also volunteers with several other organizations, including a dog rescue, a meal delivery service in Wheeling Township, an organization that prepares and sends care packages to veterans, and Feed Our Starving Children.
We're so lucky to have Sue, whose charm, compassion, and sense of humor makes clients feel welcome and puts them at ease. Take a look at what she had to say!
"I was born in England and we moved to America when I was five. I went to Palatine High School, then I got my first house in Rolling Meadows where I had my kids. I have three sons. I worked for IDOT for 43 years and I retired in February of 2021. I started here in March, so I was retired for only one day before I started here!
JOURNEYS is definitely one of my favorite places to be. I love the clients, and I love getting to know them. The people here are so wonderful. Everybody at JOURNEYS is very kind and so appreciative, including the clients. It’s just such a pleasant place.
At the HOPE Center, I started in the clothing closet because I'm very shy. I know nobody believes me, but I am! It was fun to pick out outfits and items of clothing. But then I got kind of lonely because everybody was so nice, and I was by myself in the closet! Eventually I volunteered to work up at the front desk, because I realized that it would be so much more me, since I stopped being so shy around everyone, and there’s so much more interaction with clients.
I’ve also worked with JOURNEYS’ PADS Program. I'm new to PADS, but I enjoy the heck out of it. There’s one client I know well from working at the front desk of the HOPE Center. It was my first day working with PADS, and it was just the two of us standing there together, which felt sort of weird! But then she said, 'Well, but we're here, together.' I think it helped her that I was there, and it helped me that I knew she was a client that I knew well.
One night at PADS, I brought cards. Two clients and I were sitting building card houses because nobody could remember the rules to any games. They were telling me about their pasts before they began experiencing homelessness. It was so interesting to hear their life stories.
Eventually it was bedtime. There was a family, three men: two brothers and their nephew. I said that I was going to turn off the lights, so it’s time to get ready for bed. But all one of the men did was take off his socks and put on hospital socks and then said, 'I'm ready now. I’m gonna have a good night’s sleep tonight.' And I hoped he would."
-Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
Continuing to meet more people within the JOURNEYS community, I had the chance to talk with one of our Board Members, Lori. Lori talked about her history in the area, her work with JOURNEYS, and how her day job helps provide a unique perspective and approach to helping those in need in her community.
Take a look at what she had to say!
"I grew up in Buffalo Grove, and my husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to raise our three kids in this community and send our kids to the same high school we both attended.
We started working with PADS out of our church when our kids were in high school, and we did that as a family for about 10 years. It's really been an important part of our family to work within our community and do what we can to help members in our community that are facing homelessness or dealing with homelessness directly.
I'm an attorney by trade, and while my daily work isn’t really related to non-profit work, it does allow me to think analytically and critically about problem-solving and risk mitigation. I can use some of those day-job skills to have more systemic impact in my community than just volunteering.
In 2020 I was fortunate enough to participate in the United Way Board Leadership Institute. It was a great training program for people who want to serve on non-profit boards. Through that program I was connected with JOURNEYS. I don't know that I really, fully understood the breadth of JOURNEYS’ profile in the community before that since I was previously only working with PADS program.
Beth, JOURNEYS’ Executive Director, is such a dynamic leader and very much engaged in this community, has lived in this community forever like me. I really loved her leadership style, and I was thrilled to be able to use my opportunity to serve on JOURNEYS’ board to better support the homeless community and expand services, especially during COVID.
JOURNEYS has had programs that we've had in place for years that we've totally had to pivot from because of the pandemic, and I think that the staff has done an amazing job. The board has really just tried to support them along the way. So what we are trying to do - and I think the new building is evidence of this - is to evolve with the needs of the community.
JOURNEYS has done an excellent job of trying to partner with existing community organizations that are already supporting this population in different areas, connecting them with mental health services, job services, and housing services. The care teams that are interfacing with people one-on-one have also had to get creative. For example, there have been clients for whom the best thing is to get them connected with a family member, and their family might be out in California or somewhere across the country. A train ticket could be a resource to this individual to get them back on the right track. It’s important to think creatively about what the community needs are, and how we can pivot our programs to meet the needs that exist today.
As a community, I think we do a really good job of providing opportunities for supporting JOURNEYS in a number of different ways. Some people are involved day-to-day either working at the [HOPE] Center and working directly with clients, while others are delivering food, or doing some once-a-week or once-a-month support.
Our events are another fun way to support JOURNEYS. I was just at the self-defense class, and I took my two nieces who are both in college. Everyone had a really good time, and it was very rewarding to be involved. We have lots of other events, like the Casino Night and the Bid for HOPE Gala that's coming up in the fall, and even a golf outing. There are lots ways for the community to make a connection and it's really rewarding to be one-on-one with people that are in your community and making an impact where you live."
-Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
I talked with our Outreach Specialist, Mandy, to talk about her work at JOURNEYS. As part of our clinical team, Mandy works directly with our clients to help them assess and reach their goals. Mandy splits her time between the HOPE Center and locations out in the community in order to help connect those in need with our services and resources. With an indefatigable sense of humor and relentless advocacy for our clients, Mandy is a true asset to the JOURNEYS community.
Take a look at what she had to say!
"I love meeting new clients and hearing their stories. As the Outreach Specialist, I meet with clients and potential clients in the community to assess their needs. I help clients in the hotel shelter program get the services they need and help get new clients into the hotel program. When I’m not working with clients, I also oversee the food pantry and work closely with other agencies like the Greater Chicago Food Depository for frozen food and pantry items.
This October will mark four years with JOURNEYS. Before I started here, I worked as an addiction counselor at a court-mandated treatment facility for nine years, where I also interned for two years before that. I graduated in 2009 and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor in 2010.
When I’m not at JOURNEYS, I love spending time doing anything outside. If I hadn’t gotten into addiction counseling, I would have gone into botany. I really like plants! I also love hanging out with my sister. She’s my best friend. I like working on old cars with my friends and dad. He and I rebuilt a 1983 Chevy El Camino, which we call the "El Camandy"! I’m a big crafter, too, and I love going to conventions – everything from Comic-Con to knitting and crocheting conventions!"
-Arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
I had the opportunity to sit down with our outgoing Young Professionals Board President, Stephanie Van Kampen. We talked about her time at JOURNEYS and her plans after moving back to her home state of Wisconsin. We've been so lucky to have Stephanie as part of our JOURNEYS community, and wish her the best of luck on her future endeavors. Thank you, Stephanie!
Take a look at what she had to say!
"I’m originally from Wisconsin, about an hour north. After graduation, I got a job in Chicago. I was completely new to the northwest suburbs, but I was looking for some sort of volunteering experience. I had done a lot of volunteering in the past in high school and college, and I knew I wanted to find a good cause in the community, so after a little Googling, I found JOURNEYS. They seemed like they were a really great organization, helping a lot of people in need, and it sounded like something I wanted to be a part of.
After going through JOURNEYS’ volunteer orientation, I was planning to be a PADS volunteer, but I found out that a Young Professionals Board existed, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to help out in addition to volunteering with PADS.
I really loved volunteering with PADS. I loved being out at the shelters, serving meals, and cleaning up. All of the people who helped to run those sites were very, very caring. Some people I met had been doing it for twenty or thirty years. Their dedication was astounding, and it was a great experience.
Seeing the community come out to support JOURNEYS was amazing. I would be handing out flyers at the local Jewel-Osco, and so many people would come by. They'd give us donations without us even asking for them. So many people would come up to us with some sort of connection to JOURNEYS. They would say, “I volunteered at a PADS shelter.” Someone even said their father had founded one of the PADS sites. So many thanked JOURNEYS for the great work they did. It’s amazing to see the impact they have on the community.
As the outgoing Young Professionals Board President, it’s been great to see the passion of our members. There have been so many times when something starts off as a small idea, like our virtual beer-tasting fundraiser, and there was so much enthusiasm behind it. It was so organized, well planned, and the team just really tackled it and did a great job. It’s been wonderful working with a group of people that has so much passion for helping at JOURNEYS. I would love to see YPB grow into a larger organization. The more the merrier.
I’ll continue to serve as past YPB president for the next year. I’ll be doing that in a virtual capacity since I’ll be a couple hours away. I have full confidence that the new [YPB] board will keep going strong. They’re incredibly hard workers and very passionate.
The homeless population definitely holds a special place in my heart, so after I move, I would not be surprised if I get involved with another local organization that provides services similar to JOURNEYS'."
-Transcribed and arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate