This last weekend, Connections started distributing signs throughout our community. The signs have photographs on them of people who represent the types of people who come to Connections for the Homeless for help. Many of them have children. Many look a lot like you or me or our next door neighbors. The signs all say, in bold letters, “Love Don’t Pay the Rent”.
Why “Love Don’t Pay the Rent”?
One thing we are hoping to do with our Love Don’t Pay the Rent campaign is to highlight the need for housing—which is the single most critical thing that Connections provides for those who are homeless.
The wording was inspired by a line in the recent book Evicted by Matthew Desmond, in which a landlord states to one of her tenants, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She is right:
- The love of a parent does not provide housing for a child.
- The care of a Case Manager at Connections does not pay for an apartment for the client that Case Manager is serving.
- The compassion of the community does not house its citizens in need unless someone actually pays the rent.
Rents are skyrocketing. In order to afford a market-rate 2-bedroom apartment in Evanston, a person making minimum wage would need to have 2.5 full-time jobs. Many of our clients have at least one full-time job, yet they are homeless. In order to house them, the community--and Connections--needs more options for paying for housing, as well as lower cost housing options for those with incomes lower than the area median income.
Evanston (and the North Shore as a whole) Can Do Better
Some of the signs we are distributing will be hung in store windows and posted in churches, synagogues and mosques. Because people will be able to stand in front of these and read them, they will include more details about our campaign, including the statement that “This is Evanston. We can do better.”
The City of Evanston does what it can with the money that it has to create and maintain affordable housing units. So does Cook County, and the State of Illinois, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, none of this is enough. More than 4,400 people in Evanston experienced homelessness last year, and thousands more are spending more than half of their income on rent. When you are spending that much of your income on rent (this is known as being severely “housing burdened”), you won’t have enough to get by if anything at all goes wrong, and are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness in the next year.
Connections believes that Evanston is a rare place where the intellectual resources of the community, its collective prosperity, and its desire to maintain diversity and inclusiveness could combine to make it possible for people at all levels of income to have access to housing they can afford. And we believe that the surrounding suburbs would join Evanston if they saw this could be done.
What would it take? We have many ideas about what would work, which we will share over the coming weeks and months. They include raising funds to provide private subsidies, providing incentives to landlords to participate in housing lower income households, legislation to make housing more affordable, and more. With the goals and the resources that Evanston has, there is no reason that we cannot decrease the rates of homelessness and the impact that high-cost housing is having on families in our community.
The other piece of information on the signs that we are posting is our new web address: www.connect2home.org. This will replace our prior URL of www.cfthinc.org. We chose connect2home because it says what Connections does better even than our name does—we connect people to housing so that they have a place to call home.
Through our “Love Don’t Pay the Rent” campaign, we hope to engage all segments of the community in connecting people to home. We are asking individuals to post yard signs and retailers and communities of faith to hang posters. We will ask the community to pitch in with their brain power, their financial power, and their volunteer power to support Connections’ current programming while looking at innovative and effective ways to address the critical shortage of economical housing for a diverse population.
We look forward to having these discussions with community members, sharing our ideas about what we think would work to address this critical need, and hearing from the community what their ideas might be (we might be experts on the matter but even experts can’t think of everything). We will need the support of the full community as we continue this quest, because, after all, love, on its own, definitely does not pay the rent.