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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.
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.
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.