Connections has always worked to incorporate evidence-based practices for addressing homelessness into our work and into our decisions on how to best employ the resources with which we have been entrusted. Sometimes, though, we are faced with making tough choices. Most recently, last July, we had to choose which of our programs we would keep running when it became clear that funding from the State of Illinois would not be available.
Our mission includes the phrase “to move individuals and families out of the shadow of homelessness.” That means that we seek long-term solutions and that, when choices need to be made, long-term impact will be our focus. Therefore, in July, we cut back on our EntryPoint drop-in program, choosing to invest our remaining funding in programming with a longer-term impact than showers, clothing, and food can have. However, after closing our drop-in center, we learned how important the basic necessities it provided were in engaging people in more future-oriented services like re-housing and employment. Without having their immediate needs met through drop-in, many potential clients lost interest in participating in “higher value” activities.
At Connections, we value learning, and this experience provided us with a valuable lesson. Fortunately, with community support, we have begun to restore drop-in services, and it’s important that we build on that support and continue our efforts in order to have the most meaningful long-term impact on the community.
As we look to our upcoming fiscal year, our Board and staff have proposed a strategy and range of services that should be sustainable – with significant ongoing community support – whether or not the State of Illinois passes a budget for this year or next:
1) Whenever possible, we will serve people who are currently or soon to be homeless using a Housing First strategy.
2) Knowing that affordable housing is not readily available for most people who need it, we will provide the following services as we help people to find housing they can afford:
- Re-establish and enhance our EntryPoint services to effectively engage people who are homeless in productive activity even while they are without housing.
- Provide strategies for people to use to survive while they are seeking housing:
- Provide shelter through Hilda’s Place
- Provide financial assistance (when available) to prevent evictions and re-house people
- Advocate with landlords and provide tenant education
- Help people identify alternatives to staying on the streets when no shelter can be found
3) We will continue to run our supportive housing programs for chronically homeless individuals with a disability, families where a member of the household has a disability, and families of students in Districts 202 and 65.
4) We will continue to develop Our House as a residential program for homeless youth.
5) We will continue to provide supportive services to all our clients related to health, education, and employment.
These approaches mean Connections will be relying heavily on our community for support. We have several goals related to community involvement:
- Goal 1: Hilda’s Place will be 100% funded through our local community.
- Goal 2: We will enhance our volunteer program in order to accomplish the following:
- Leverage our staff’s skills by having volunteers perform many of the tasks that do not require the training that our case managers must have, but which support their work.
- Add value for our program participants by engaging them in activities that will bolster their life skills, social confidence, and self-esteem.
- Goal 3: We will engage the community in advocacy efforts that will increase the supply of affordable housing, influence policy decisions that will support those in need, and incentivize landlords to participate in making the community a livable place for people who are poor as well as those who are not.
This community is made wealthy by both its resources and its diversity, and we are grateful that our community is aware of the inequities that exist within it. Our goals aim to decrease those inequities, and you are a critical component in achieving that work. Please consider how you can participate in the solution – by making a monetary contribution or increasing the contribution you are already making, by volunteering to teach a class or cook a meal, or by participating in our advocacy efforts. Together, and only together, can we achieve these goals.