Connections for the Homeless honors participants, volunteers and staff

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Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

A yard sign from Connections for the Homeless. Connections hosted a virtual event Tuesday honoring their participants, volunteers and staff.

Christina van Waasbergen, Reporter

The Evanston homelessness prevention, shelter and housing program Connections for the Homeless held a virtual Milestone Celebration Tuesday honoring the program’s participants, volunteers and staff.

Connections is a local non-profit that provides shelter and support for people experiencing homelessness, assists them in finding permanent housing and helps those at risk of homelessness to be able to keep their homes.

Betty Bogg, the Connections executive director, said the program has grown in the past 14 months, doubling and in some cases even quadrupling its staff, budget and the number of participants it serves. Connections has also moved its shelter operations into hotels, which Bogg said enables it to serve any household configuration, including large families, couples and seniors and their adult-age children. 

Furthermore, Bogg said Connections has helped keep 1,600 people from becoming homeless after the COVID-19 eviction moratorium ends by catching them up on rent and mortgage payments.

“We have a lot to reflect on and celebrate tonight,” Bogg said. “The pandemic revealed the fragility of many people’s housing, while demonstrating still how communities can work together to respond to the increased need for shelter.”

Three program participants shared their stories and spoke about how Connections has impacted their lives. The first, Kira, is a registered nurse and mother of two. One of her children was diagnosed with two preexisting conditions, and doctors told her he couldn’t go to daycare until he was two, leaving her unable to work. After her ex-husband stopped making mortgage payments on their house without telling her, Kira was evicted. 

“I’ve never been in a shelter before; I’ve never experienced this situation before,” she said, “so I didn’t know what to do and where to go.”

Kira said out of all the organizations she reached out to, Connections was the only one that actually helped her. She and her family were able to stay at one of their hotel shelters.

Claro “Carlos” Duany, another program participant, was recognized at the event after he successfully regained permanent housing. Duany is a high school crossing guard who also works with children with special needs. 

After Duany’s mother died, he also lost his family home. Duany would visit the food pantry and clothing room at Connections’ drop-in center before going to his job. When the pandemic hit, Duany lost that job and moved into Connections’ emergency shelter at the Margarita Inn.

Eventually, Carlos was able to restart his job and secure permanent housing through Connections’ Rapid Rehousing program.

“You still have to consider your blessings, regardless of what you’re going through,” Duany said. 

The third program participant recognized at the event, Qwandra Drummer, is a mother of six children who passed the Illinois Bar Exam while she lived in a Connections’ shelter. She said Connections helped her pass the bar by paying for her to take a prep course.

“You know how people say they came from small beginnings?” Drummer said. “I came from no beginnings, and I was not supposed to get out.”

Even though Connections helped her find permanent housing,  Drummer said she struggled to find a home at first because of her large family.

“I had (someone) tell me, ‘You’re a lawyer, why are you homeless?’” she said. “They were discriminating against me because of my family size. Basically, it always came down to (the fact that) I had a large family and they didn’t want to rent to me. It wasn’t about them being afraid the rent wouldn’t be paid because I had support. They didn’t want to rent to a mom with six kids.”

Eventually, Drummer and her children were able to find and move into permanent housing. She said she is grateful for the changes Connections helped make in her life.

“I had no idea, coming into Connections, the impact that it would make on my family, but from day one my life has changed for the better,” Drummer said. “And it’s because of the love, time and care that donors have given to Connections that differences were made in my life.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @cvanwaasbergen

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