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Learn the latest about what is happening at HOW.

Health and Housing

Date published: August 30, 2021

Over these past many months, we have all become  acutely aware of how essential housing is to ensuring our health and safety. It’s something I think about every day while working at HOW—the way a home is so much more than just a roof over one’s head. It’s a safe haven, a place of belonging, of rest and of healing. It is well documented that housing is a social determinant of health. A home not only keeps a person safe from potential hazards and illness, but actually boosts one’s overall wellbeing. 

 People living in safe, stable housing report higher rates of physical, mental, and emotional wellness on almost every scale than those who do not. On the flip side, homelessness, frequent moves, and housing instability can directly lead to mental and physical health problems or exacerbate existing chronic illnesses like heart disease and asthma. Homelessness’ adverse effects on health are so well researched that there are even studies showing children who “experienced homelessness only while in utero are more likely to be hospitalized or suffer worse health” outcomes compared to their peers.


Sadly, the relationship between housing insecurity and health isn't only one way.  I’ve spoken with many clients whose descent into homelessness began when they left a job to care for a family member or were forced to use their rent money to cover a medical bill. This financial insecurity is an unfortunate reality for millions of Americans – 40 percent of households are only one missed paycheck away from poverty and housing instability. This figure is even higher for households of color. So many people are teetering on the edge, and one unexpected health setback can be the catalyst for homelessness.  It’s an important reminder that the nation’s affordable housing shortage is the precursor to our eviction crisis and that losing one’s home is ever-present in the hearts and heads of many. 

We’ve all experienced some form of loss throughout the pandemic. For those who were ill the value of having a home with running water, electricity, and a comfy bed was priceless. These necessities played a crucial role in the healing of millions as they recovered from the virus. But when we eventually move away from intensity of this pandemic, we cannot forget the significant impact a home plays in a person’s overall wellbeing.  

To further explore this topic, HOW recently launched its Rx Housing speaker's series. In July, we had our first discussion with Chi Chi Okwu from Everthrive in conversation with our Board member Michelle Saddler on maternal and children’s health. On August 25 we shared clients speaking about their personal experiences for our Day of Giving. And on September 30th our annual Luncheon, Rx Housing: the Intersection of Health and Housing will tackle the complex relationship between a person's housing status and their health.  I hope you can join us for this important conversation. 

Britt Shawver


Equity and Housing Go Hand In Hand

Date published: June 16, 2021

The nature of HOW’s work has always been intersectional. Housing instability and homelessness are caused by a myriad of contributing factors and rooted in systemic inequities. In response to those realities, HOW offers so much more than housing alone. We create community, uplift client voices, affirm their experiences and lend support when needed.  We celebrate the vast diversity of our clients and appreciate and honor them for who they are.  


The month of June commemorates LGBTQ+ Pride, Juneteenth, and PTSD Awareness – themes that resonate deeply for us here at HOW. While we focus on those whose lived experiences are highlighted this month, we also recognize that too many of our clients have been affected by the impact of trauma, racism, and LGBTQ+ discrimination, often resulting in homelessness or housing insecurity. For us, the through line that underscores the importance of our work are the equity issues related to ensuring everyone has safe and stable housing.  


Many of our LGBTQ+ clients were first forced into homelessness because of a lack of acceptance by family members and friends. Homelessness among queer youth and young adults is pervasive – they are 120% more likely to experience homelessness in comparison to their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Not only does a lack of acceptance by one’s support system contribute to housing instability, but experiences of homophobia and/or transphobia can have significant negative impacts on mental health as well. HOW offers a safe and welcoming community where those who have been impacted by this type of trauma can begin to heal. 


Eighty percent of HOW clients are Black, which is consistent with data on who is homeless in Chicago.  As we work to create housing opportunities, we must face the historical context and current systems that have created barriers in access to housing and community resources for Black people.  Black households are disproportionately rent-burdened, paying 18% more than their White counterparts, and subsequently at a greater risk of eviction. Systematic disinvestment and redlining have left communities of color with fewer resources, such as grocery stores, public transit options, and green spaces, contributing to poorer health and employment outcomes. This is why HOW focuses on housing choice and building housing stock in resource-rich neighborhoods, empowering clients to help select where they live. 


Research shows that individuals who experience homelessness have a significantly greater chance of experiencing both mental health conditions and long-term physical health problems. Chronic health conditions such as PTSD can be both a cause and a result of homelessness, as homelessness itself is a traumatizing experience, one that compounds pre-existing trauma. In response to these health conditions with long-standing systemic inequalities, HOW centers its programming in a trauma-informed care model. 


All month long we will be posting opportunities for everyone to celebrate and support members of our community, as well as advocating for long-term change and intersectional housing justice. Please join us in working to create more affordable, inclusive, supportive housing for all. 

Britt Shawver


Black History Month

Date published: February 17, 2021

It’s Black History Month! At HOW we are excited to celebrate the achievements of the BIPOC community and expand our knowledge of the contributions African Americans have made to our history and culture. While celebration and learning are integral to Black History Month, it’s also an opportunity to think critically about race in our country and the role racism plays in perpetuating inequity.   

Since HOW’s founding 38 years ago, we’ve empowered individuals and families to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness by providing housing and support services. The Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy published a report highlighting gaping housing inequities between African Americans and their white counterparts in every area of the city. By working with clients across a broad spectrum of life experience, age, ability, and gender, we’ve come to see firsthand that housing disparities are undeniably correlated with race.  

In America, 40% of people experiencing homelessness are Black despite making up only 13% of the country’s population. Systemic and institutional racism have led to higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and chronic illness within communities of color. And America’s long-standing history of racist housing policies, including red-lining and segregation, have created better housing outcomes for white community members leaving brown and black communities generations behind. These barriers have compounding effects and directly translate into more African Americans walking through HOW’s doors seeking a place to call home.   

Race is a critical through line in conversations about homelessness. When we talk about creating access to safe, affordable housing, we are talking about racial justice.  When we talk about generating opportunities for economic mobility, we are talking about racial justice. When we talk about developing new pathways for better health outcomes, we are talking about racial justice. Racism is not a separate issue to be solved, it's the foundation many of these institutional problems were built on. By highlighting this truth, we hope to bring further awareness to these issues.


At HOW celebrating Black History Month means educating ourselves, practicing targeted advocacy, and working toward creating a more equal and just society for all. How about you?

Britt Shawver


The Heart of What We Do

Date published: November 20, 2020

Every year at HOW, we gather to honor the lives of clients who have passed away. At these memorials we take time to reflect on the impact of each individual and how deeply they are missed. Like many others grieving the loss of loved ones this year, HOW had to modify this cherished tradition and shift to a virtual memorial format because of the pandemic. As I joined the virtual memorial, I couldn’t help but think about how it was the same process I had used to participate in several meetings already that day.  I wondered if, despite all the planning, this year’s client memorial wouldn’t feel quite the same. But the minute we began, the deep commitment and care HOW staff have for our clients came shining through. 

One by one, we commemorated each HOW community member who had left us this year, as Case Managers paid tribute and shared memories. Some were grand—one story was about a client who saved a neighbor when a fire broke out in their apartment complex; while others were focused on smaller but equally important stories to highlight the unique spirit of every individual lost. As each story was shared, I was overwhelmed with an immense sense of gratitude for the extraordinary lengths our Support Services team goes to.  This depth of care and service can’t be quantified in statistics and numbers. It is an ethos, a calling, and while housing is literally part of HOW’s name, I was reminded that compassion is truly at the center of our work. 

There is so much power in caring, in knowing someone else is looking out for your wellbeing. For many of our clients who struggle with trust after years of being let down or mistreated by others, HOW staff embody the importance of creating healthy and supportive relationships. As one longtime staff member shared during the memorial, "It's bigger than Case Management—it's a relationship. Sometimes, we're the only person they have. We're their family too." Day in and day out, HOW staff are present in our clients’ lives to provide comfort, offer guidance, and celebrate accomplishments. They don’t hesitate and go above and beyond to ensure every individual feels cared for, whether it’s dropping by a card for a client who has been struggling with her health or driving across town to deliver donated items to a new HOW family. 

These deep connections were on display throughout the client memorial and as we wrapped up my heart was full. While we mourned the remarkable, talented, unique individuals who left us this year, I was so grateful for the compassionate community we have created here at HOW. And in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, let me close out this blog post with a note of gratitude. To all HOW’s frontline staff—thank you for your unyielding commitment to, and compassion for our clients. I’m humbled and honored to work alongside you to carry out HOW’s mission. 

Wishing you all a safe, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.  

Britt Shawver


Looking Ahead: The Eviction Crisis

Date published: July 14, 2020

HOW received almost 10,000 inquiries last year from people seeking housing assistance. Some were trying to hold on to their housing under the threat of eviction, while others were staying with friends or family or in shelters, desperately looking for a safe, stable place to call home. It’s impossible to overlook the through line between housing instability and homelessness. And that’s why our work at HOW has always included prevention and advocacy programs. 

Through our partnerships with the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and the Department of Children and Family Services, HOW provides families at risk of homelessness with dedicated prevention supports so they can remain stably housed. The completion of HOW’s first affordable housing development in Evanston created sixteen new homes for those who were previously priced out of the rental market because of its unaffordability. And yet, despite these efforts, the hard truth is there is simply not enough affordable housing to meet the demand of those who need it. 

There was already an affordable housing crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now with the devastating economic downturn, record unemployment, and short term solutions put in place by local governments and the CARES Act set to soon expire, we anticipate an unprecedented surge in the numbers of people facing the threat of housing loss and eviction.  We cannot escape the harsh reality that the impact of this crisis, like so many before it, will hit certain communities harder than others - segregation, redlining, discriminatory housing practices, and disproportionate law enforcement are responsible for evictions being clustered in communities of color.  

Data shows renters in majority Black neighborhoods in Chicago are four times more likely to face eviction than in majority White neighborhoods, with Black women and their families having the highest likelihood of eviction. Race and gender inequity are at the core of poverty, housing instability and homelessness, as reflected here at HOW, where 77% of our families are headed by Black women. We must continue to acknowledge this fact as we look to create lasting solutions. The massive lack of affordable housing is directly linked to the disenfranchisement of communities of color and the effects of structural racism.  

We must be proactive and extend the eviction moratorium until we fully address the current economic crisis. We must further invest in programs which expand housing options for those living at or below the poverty line including the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund. We must advocate for our local, state, and federal governments to allocate more funds towards the creation of affordable housing, and additional housing vouchers. We must commit to building more affordable housing in well-resourced neighborhoods. We must rise to the call of our community. We must do better. We must do more. And we must do it now.  

Britt Shawver


Race's Role In The COVID-19 Pandemic

Date published: April 16, 2020

By now you have likely heard the dire reports. Chicago's Department of Public Health shows that Black Chicagoans, who are 30% of the city’s population, are contracting COVID-19 at a much higher rate than any other group, and account for a staggering 68% of the attributed deaths. This means Chicago’s Black residents are dying at a rate nearly six times that of their white neighbors.  

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have seen the difficult truth that our clients, 79% of whom are African American, are most at risk. This novel coronavirus is highlighting what we know to be true from nearly four decades of work - poverty and racism are amplified in times of crisis.  And the ever-present gaps in our economy and healthcare system are receiving new attention as COVID-19 related deaths within Black populations skyrocket.  ​


That’s why one of HOW’s core values is Justice. Our work as a housing and human services organization is inextricably linked to social and racial justice. We know firsthand that racial and socioeconomic issues create huge disparities when it comes to public health, education, employment, and community investment.  ​


Housing is fundamental to stabilizing a person’s health. This fact has never been clearer than now as we face this pandemic. For our clients, all of whom have experienced housing insecurity and homelessness, a HOW apartment offers a place of refuge during the pandemic. But simply having a home is not enough. The city’s Stay-At-Home order has drawn attention to the chasm between Chicago’s well-resourced and financially secure citizens, and those who live at or below the poverty line and are reliant on supplemental resources and outside aid. These individuals and families don’t have the luxury of remaining isolated at home. Instead, they are forced to travel to local agencies and nonprofits to secure basic staples, opening an already vulnerable group up to further possible infection. ​


In tandem with HOW housing, our support services have become a necessary lifeline for many of our individuals and families across the city during this pandemic. Every day we work to support our clients and alleviate the pain and stress from the detrimental outcomes stemming from COVID-19.  And despite their stories of job loss, not being able to see their doctors, and laundry list of growing worries, the current low rate of known infection within HOW’s client population demonstrates the life-saving impact of being housed.  


While we can’t change the “high-risk” status of those we serve, we know that housing can help them defy the odds.  

Britt Shawver


Housing First

Date published: February 20, 2020

2020 marks nearly four decades of HOW creating opportunities and rebuilding lives. Back in 1983 when we first began, we worked with eight clients. In 2019, we served over 1,300 individuals.


Over the years, HOW has experienced tremendous growth. We now serve clients across Chicagoland, own and operate four buildings, provide permanent supportive and affordable housing, and offer extensive support services that include individual case management to people of all ages and genders. While so much has changed in our work, one thing has not—our commitment to the Housing First model. 



Because it works.  

The Housing First approach prioritizes just that – housing first. Losing your home is the beginning of a slow spiral downward. The most effective intervention to stop that spiral is getting housed. 

The Housing First model provides permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness and pairs it with services to help support long-term stability. Housing First pivots from alternate housing models by assuming everyone is prepared for housing, instead of conditioning housing on “readiness”. It responds to people’s most basic need: to create a stable foundation from which other issues, including ones that may have led to instability, can be addressed. Housing First creates a model that empowers individuals and fights the structural housing inequity present across the nation.    

Decades of research have established Housing First as an evidence–based and effective approach to ending homelessness. It is also the most cost-efficient solution. A 2017 research brief by the National Alliance to End Homelessness noted that the average cost to taxpayers is $35,578 when a person experiences chronic homelessness. These costs are reduced by 49.5% when that individual is placed in supportive housing. 

HOW was among the first agencies in the nation to implement Housing First and has decades of our own data to support the efficacy of this model. Consistently over 90% of HOW clients maintain stable housing while housed in our program, and over 85% remain stably housed after they leave. We know first-hand that once individuals and families find housing they have the stability they need to overcome obstacles, rebuild their lives, and become active and engaged members of our communities. And I believe this is exactly why Housing First remains the gold standard for addressing homelessness.  

Britt Shawver


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