The phrase “Love Don’t Pay the Rent” may sound like the beginning of a bluesy ballad, but most who have seen those signs here can see from the faces beneath the slogan that the issue goes deeper than a poster or a song. The signs are the first step in Connections’ campaign to make residents of the North Shore and Evanston aware of the many people here who, sometimes daily, face the question of where they and their family will sleep for the night.

The awareness is also meant to publicize a $50,000 fundraising initiative.The City’s 2015-19 Consolidated Plan says 42.8% of the 29,605  households in Evanston are housing-cost burdened: about 40% of these households pay more than 30% of their income on housing, and about 20% of those pay more than 50%.  

To live in this area, a person must make at least $18 per hour in a full-time job, Connections’ Director of Development Sue Loellbach said. “Housing that’s affordable at a lower income does not exist on the North Shore. In order to live here and pay market-rate rent, a mother of two working at minimum wage would need to work 2.5 jobs.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says a person is homeless if she or he is living “in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings (on the street),” in an emergency shelter, in transitional or supportive housing for homeless persons who originally came from the streets or emergency shelters. HUD’s definition of homelessness also includes anyone who is a week away from eviction and without resources to obtain housing, who is being discharged from an institution, such as a jail or a hospital, without a residence to which to return or who is fleeing domestic violence and no subsequent residence has been identified.

In Evanston, more than 5,000 people are homeless at some point during a given year, with an estimated 1,278 homeless on any given night, according to the Consolidated Plan. Nearly 500 children who attend public school in Evanston are homeless, according to figures from the State of Illinois, provided by school districts in compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act.
“Thousands more are not homeless but are living at poverty level and are at risk of becoming homeless, because so much of their income goes towards their housing that there is not enough left over for utilities, food, clothing, school supplies, child care, or transportation,” Ms. Loellbach said.

Evanstonians and residents of the North Shore show their love for citizens in need, Connections says, through its giving of time and money. The many not-for-profits in this area address problems that, according to Connections, are caused or exacerbated in many instances by the stress of poverty: hunger, mental illness, substance abuse, youth violence, domestic violence, and poor educational outcomes for children who cannot concentrate in school because of poverty or homelessness.  

Acknowledging there are other factors – such as long-term mental illness, substance abuse or a prison sentence that can be a bar to employment – Ms. Loellbach said, “But without housing that fits into their budgets now, today, people cannot address any of the symptoms of poverty.”

Connections’ programs address the problems of people who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness by trying to help people remain in their homes. Programs for those who are homeless are focused on either finding housing or helping people survive on the street.

“We help people who are homeless and cannot afford housing with basic necessities and with strategies for survival while they are homeless,” the statement said. “More and more, our primary job is to help people survive until they can find housing they can afford. Because finding such housing is a lengthy and difficult process, we are finding it necessary to expand our services to those who are homeless.”

With Love Don’t Pay the Rent, Connections hopes to raise awareness that money – “cold, hard cash” – is needed to fight homelessness and raise $50,000 to match a $50,000 challenge from the Finnegan Family Foundation.

Connections also invites people to visit its website to learn about the issues and to volunteer to tutor, coach, sort clothes, stock the pantry or lead workshops and classes.

Referring to the book “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.”  by Kathryn D. Edin and H. Luke Schafer, Ms. Loellbach said, “The equivalent of 500 people giving $2.00 a day will allow us to expand services so we can provide the support that homeless people need while they are homeless.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...