By Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
Many people become homeless or find themselves at serious risk of homelessness because of disabilities. In fact, last year, 60% of JOURNEYS clients had a disabling condition.
Disabilities often prevent people from being able to hold consistent work, and an unstable income often leads to unstable housing. At JOURNEYS, part of our work includes assisting clients with disabilities – whether those disabilities are visible or not - achieve stable housing.
Recently, one of our clients, Maryann*, a mother to a school-age son, came to JOURNEYS after fleeing domestic violence in another state. Unfortunately, she had also recently suffered from a stroke, which left her partially blind. Maryann worked with her case manager, Katie, and was admitted into the hotel program, which allowed her to stabilize and find work. Eventually, our Dedicated Assessor, Mandy, helped Maryann get matched with a referral to be rehoused in Buffalo Grove. She and her son are now living happily and stably in their new apartment, and she is overjoyed that her son is making friends.
To help our clients achieve their goals, it is essential that we consider the whole person. Each client’s needs and situations are different. If our goal is to help clients achieve stable housing, it is not enough to simply provide shelter. Rather, shelter is an essential part of a continuum of care developed to meet people where they are without judgement. At JOURNEYS, we provide services and programs alongside access to shelter that enable clients to build and maintain a more independent life.
JOURNEYS | Lives Here.
*Name has been changed.
Community & Compassion: How the Palatine Police Department Is Making a Difference for Local Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
By Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
To say that the relationship between people experiencing homelessness and the police can be tense is something of an understatement. Across the nation there are laws on the books that penalize day-to-day life for many unhoused people. For instance, a law passed in Missouri in 2022 that went into effect at the beginning of this year prohibits sleeping in public spaces. There are also plenty of laws that make it illegal to sleep in cars, panhandle, and even to be vagrant.
According to the RAND Corporation, the police are often the only contact that people experiencing homelessness have with the government. In recent years, many local governments and police departments have recognized the need to revisit traditional policing methods that often punish people experiencing homelessness – methods that are proven to be ineffective.
The Palatine Police Department is among the trailblazers in law enforcement working not only to improve their relationship with people experiencing homelessness in our community, but also to be a resource on the path towards independence and permanent housing.
I spoke with Officer Nick Heuertz, called Officer Nick here at JOURNEYS, who is a Crime Prevention Officer with the Palatine Police Department and a JOURNEYS Board Member. The Palatine Police Department, Officer Nick tells me, has had a “long-standing and very positive relationship” with JOURNEYS, thanks in no small part to the work of Alan Stoeckel, retired Palatine Police Chief and former JOURNEYS Board Member. When Chief Stoeckel retired from the force, he passed on his board seat to Officer Nick to help maintain the decades-long relationship between the two organizations.
The Palatine Police Department continues to cultivate its relationship with JOURNEYS and its clients. The Crime Prevention Unit in partnership with the Neighborhood Based Policing Program worked with JOURNEYS to develop a four-part series of talks geared towards informing our HOPE Center clients about the police department’s goals and the resources available to them.
Officer Nick began the series during the last week of March. He came to the HOPE Center and talked about how the Palatine Police Department actively strives to provide solutions at a grassroots level. “We want to meet them where they are,” Officer Nick says. “It’s important to address that some people experiencing homelessness may not have always had positive experiences with law enforcement officers. We think it’s really, really important that clients at JOURNEYS know the police department here in Palatine is here for them.”
Over the next few weeks, more representatives from the Palatine Police Department will come to JOURNEYS. Next up is their new resident social worker, Kimberly Quintanilla, who will come to talk to clients about her role and what resources she provides. “As a clinician,” he explains, “she brings a totally different skillset, and has access to a lot of programs [we] don’t. We’re lucky to have her.”
Then, a few patrol officers will stop by who work the area around JOURNEYS and in downtown Palatine. Officer Nick is hoping their visit will help build a connection between JOURNEYS clients and the officers they are most likely to encounter, especially when interactions between clients and police often occur on an enforcement basis when dispatch is called. Building familiarity will help build trust.
Finally, JOURNEYS will host a visit from the Palatine Fire Department. Clients most often encounter the fire department during ambulance calls, which can be scary and overwhelming experiences. The Palatine Fire Department representatives will walk clients through the process – like taking blood pressure, blood oxygen level and heart rate – so that it seems less intimidating.
As an organization, the Palatine Police Department has ramped up its training on ways of engaging with people that will yield the best possible outcomes, including de-escalation and how to better interact with people with substance use disorders or experiencing mental health crises.
We at JOURNEYS are lucky to have such a strong and enduring partnership with the Palatine Police Department. It is inspiring to work alongside an organization that advocates JOURNEYS’ mission to help people experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless.
For Officer Nick, a win is as small as getting a better outcome for one person at a time. “Acknowledging their humanity is important,” he says. “Homelessness is not someone else’s problem. It’s always very close to us.”
JOURNEYS | Lives Here.
By Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
It was 2019 when Mrs. Norman* received a call from a police officer in Nebraska. “Mrs. Norman, we’re going to close your son’s case,” he said. She was instantly on alert. When your adult son has been missing for five years, it’s difficult not to expect the worst.
I recently spoke with "Kay" and "Jack Norman," who were generous enough to talk with me about their journey with their son, "Tom," who struggled with alcoholism and went missing in 2014.
For years, they had no idea where he was. They even gave DNA samples in hopes of yielding the smallest of clues, or at least the difficult peace of closure. But the years went by without answers.
Even when things seem most uncertain, the hope and love of parenthood never dies. The Normans never changed their landline. The number had been the same since before Tom was born. Whenever the phone rang, they hoped it would be him. Every year on his birthday, they would come to JOURNEYS with a donation. As far as they knew, he was homeless, and it felt like a gesture of hope and a way to help others like their son.
The Nebraska police officer on the phone paused before speaking again. She remembers that pause and how filled it was with both dread and hope.
“Mrs. Norman, your son has been found. Would you like to talk to him?”
She did, and after they finally got to hear his voice, she and her husband couldn’t move fast enough. They went to church to give thanks before getting directly into their car to drive to Nebraska where their son had been living, they learned, under bridges.
Finding their son was not, however, the end of the journey. It was just the beginning.
After reuniting with his parents, Tom Norman decided to stay in Nebraska. He had a support system there, he said, and had begun attending AA meetings. Despite having his identification and many of his belongings stolen, he had odd day jobs that got him by.
But then the pandemic hit. With the world shut down, the people who needed them most couldn’t access the resources and support they needed for recovery. “I learned while listening to the radio,” Mrs. Norman says, “that people battling addictions and people with mental health issues were unable to get to their meetings. So, I called my son and asked him, ‘Tom, when was the last time you went to your AA meeting?’”
“They’re there if I need them, Mom,” he replied. “Just a phone call away.”
He came home to Illinois for the first time in years a few months later. Unfortunately, he ended up in the hospital for four days.
When he arrived at his parents’ home, he was sweating, throwing up, and had no appetite. They realized, eventually, that he had consumed quite a bit of alcohol right before coming over with the intention of abstaining for the whole visit. But that only led to what Mrs. Norman describes as “full-blown withdrawal.”
Tom Norman’s story illustrates the brutal complexities of the path into and out of homelessness. The reasons that people become homeless are rarely simple, and as a result, the path out is never straightforward.
"He was an Eagle Scout," Mrs. Norman tells me. "Now he's living in a halfway house in Burlington."
After Tom was discharged from the hospital, the doctors – everyone, really – told him he needed to detox. But he fought it, and he fought it hard. He wanted to go back to Nebraska, but his friends there made it clear to him that he had nothing to come back to. His path could only be forward.
He moved into the halfway house in November of 2021 after achieving sobriety the previous month. The hospital that treated him during his withdrawal forgave his bill. He now has a full-time job and walks four miles to and from work.
It almost goes without saying when his mother says, that “He can only handle things one day at a time.”
These days, he is saving money to move out of the halfway house and find a place of his own. Halfway houses are just that – half of the solution. They provide shelter and resources, but, Mrs. Norman notes, it’s a very transient way of life. People don’t stay long, and friendships don’t have time to develop. “He’s still broken in so many ways.”
But last fall Tom celebrated a year of sobriety, and he’s going strong. “I said to my son that some people celebrate sobriety more than their birthday. Do you know what he said to me? He said, ‘Mom, I celebrate every day.’”
His journey is far from over, but his parents are hopeful. Tom is hopeful.
Of course, that hope wasn’t always so bright, especially for Tom. Many people struggling with addiction, not to mention people experiencing homelessness, are faced with chronic feelings of shame. And when hope is at a premium, it can feel like a burden. It’s necessary to move forward, but it can be difficult to cultivate and, what’s more, hope can feel like a risk when the potential for disappointment seems so real.
Recently, Mrs. Norman asked her son why he never called the whole time he was missing. It wasn’t that he forgot their number, he told her. The real reason was so much more difficult to hear.
“Mom, I didn’t think you would ever want to see me again.”
Sometimes, when we are at our lowest point, we need someone else to take the first step into hope for us. For Mrs. Norman, that’s what it means to be a parent.
“I hugged him close,” Mrs. Norman tells me, “And I said to him, ‘Banish that thought. No matter what you go through, no matter what you do, you are loved unconditionally.’”
That isn’t to say that there haven’t been hiccups along the way, moments when both mother and son still struggle to understand each other’s painful experiences. Mrs. Norman admits that she can’t help but prod him about getting the help he needs and to talk to someone about how he’s feeling, whether that’s through a therapist or within the faith community she hopes he’ll one day return to.
“I know I agitate him. I think it’s just part of being his mom.”
It is very clear just by looking at Mrs. Norman, who has remained measured and calm over the duration of our conversation even as it has taken emotional turns, that being a parent doesn’t stop when a child turns eighteen. Mr. Norman, too, though speaking very little, has a face carved with lines that betray years of anxiety. Yet his eyes are big and bright and look hopeful, even if they are shaded by a furrowed brow of practical concern.
For the Normans, faith – in God, in their son – is unshakeable, but hope is a choice they make every day.
*Names and some identifying details have been changed to ensure privacy.
Author’s Note: While Tom Norman is not a JOURNEYS client, his experiences reflect those of many JOURNEYS clients. Kay and Jack Norman have been connected to JOURNEYS through the service they do with their faith community and were willing to share their story about how homelessness has touched their lives in order to shine a light on homelessness in our shared community. We at JOURNEYS thank them for their time and willingness to speak with our development team.
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
Our blog contains original writing on issues related to homelessness, community happenings, and unique agency stories.