by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Please explain the current situation regarding people who are homeless in Chicago.
Laura: Chicago is home to more than 2.7 million people. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, more than 82,000, or 3 percent of our neighbors, have been reported homeless, which includes individuals and families who are homeless and doubled up living with family and friends. The City of Chicago recently released its annual Point-in-Time count, which reports that on any given night; more than 5,600 of our neighbors are living on the streets and in shelters. There are three trends reported by the City that indicate a growing concern:
There was a 26% increase in people living on the street.
There was a 52% increase of chronically homeless individuals city-wide.
There was an increase of 120% of homeless individuals in the Loop.
Homeless individuals who live on the streets face hunger, exhaustion, violence, extreme weather, and a variety of other dangers. In addition to these challenges, many men and women who are experiencing homelessness face a number of personal challenges that get in the way of their ability to transition out of homelessness to a home of their own. In Chicago’s Point-in-Time count, among the men and women interviewed:
82% reported being unemployed
42% reported having spent time in jail or prison
25% reported being a victim of domestic violence
24% reported a current or past substance use issue
24% reported receiving services for a current or prior mental health condition
Gordon: The Franciscans are known for their commitment to the poor. How is Franciscan Outreach assisting people who are homeless in Chicago?
Laura: Franciscan Outreach is a leading provider of homeless services in Chicago. Every day, we provide healthy meals to those who are hungry, a warm bed for those who need shelter, vital case management services for those who need guidance, and access to critical resources for those who need specialized assistance. Throughout the year, Franciscan Outreach provides life-changing services to about 8,000 men and women through five locations, including two overnight shelters in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, a soup kitchen in Wicker Park and two Day Programs – one at St. Peter’s Church in the Loop and the other at the Chicago Community Center in East Garfield Park.
Gordon: What interested you in joining Franciscan Outreach as the Director of Development and Marketing?
Laura: Over the last 15 years, I’ve led the marketing communications and fundraising efforts for global, national and local nonprofits. I enjoy designing and implementing growth strategies for mission-driven organizations that support the health and well-being of those in need. Throughout my life, my heart has always been with those who marginalized and homeless. The life-changing work of Franciscan Outreach was so appealing to me because of the respectful and non-judgmental way the organization serves all people no matter what their life circumstances may be. Leading the marketing communications and fundraising efforts at Franciscan Outreach is incredibly meaningful work. Each day, I get to witness the most amazing acts of kindness and generosity by individuals from all throughout Chicago who want to help our neighbors in need.
Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities at Franciscan Outreach?
Laura: At Franciscan Outreach, I develop and implement integrated marketing communications and fundraising strategies that are designed to achieve such results as organizational advancement, heightened brand awareness, increased funding, and improved stakeholder relationships. To increase awareness and support for Franciscan Outreach and the hundreds of people we serve each day, I created the organization’s annual Spring Gala, which has grown significantly over the last three years. It has become Franciscan Outreach’s signature event. Because of societal misperceptions about men and women who are homeless, I created the awareness campaign, A Portrait of Homelessness in Chicago. This campaign is a traveling gallery of portraits and stories featuring people who are experiencing homelessness. It’s designed to educate the public about the many difficult personal circumstances that have resulted in people becoming homeless and how they’re working to address these challenges and take steps to make positive changes in their lives.
Gordon: Please share with our readers some background on the traveling exhibit, A Portrait of Homelessness in Chicago.
Laura: Through the traveling exhibit and awareness campaign, A Portrait of Homelessness in Chicago, Franciscan Outreach is working to increase public awareness about the many factors and challenges that have become barriers to housing for people who are homeless. Through the portraits and personal stories of Franciscan Outreach guests, this campaign is making a human connection with people who are homeless and the public. Its intention is to help people gain a better understanding about the circumstances that have led people to becoming homeless, the steps they’re taking to overcome personal challenges, the barriers they face to finding employment and housing and the goals they’re working toward to make positive changes in their lives. A Portrait of Homelessness in Chicago is a mobile gallery, which also includes a presentation and six-minute video. It’s available to any organization looking to educate and inspire its employees, congregations and constituents.
Gordon: The video that accompanies the traveling exhibit includes three of the people whose portraits are featured in the gallery. It’s a very powerful video. What has been the response?
Laura: The traveling exhibit is meant to make a human connection with the public by sharing the personal stories and portraits of people who are homeless. Each person who spends time with the exhibit walks away with a clearer understanding of the complicated situation that faces people who are homeless every day. The video provides the public with a glimpse into the lives of three individuals who are working through the everyday challenges of being homeless.
Gordon Thank you and your colleagues for your commitment to help the poor and vulnerable, and to all pf our readers who may send Franciscan Outreach a donation to demonstrate their love for the poor and vulnerable.