[Naperville, 8/28/13] If she could, Diane Nilan would amass 3,000 children outside the Janesville
This silver-haired advocate, with decades of experience working with homeless families nationwide, will park her unmistakable motorhome Tillie— her living quarters, office and vehicle—outside his office at 20 S. Main Street to represent not only the 3,000 homeless students in Ryan’s District 1, but also the 1 million+ homeless students in the U.S. She’ll deliver hundreds of petitions signed by people across the country urging Ryan to listen to what kids say about their homelessness.
“These kids are the tip of the iceberg, the canaries in the mine shaft, embodying the soaring poverty and homelessness among families and youth in our country,” lamented Nilan. “I can’t let him propose such draconian cuts in ignorance.” Billions would be slashed from vital programs that feed, house and heal homeless families if Ryan’s budget passes.
To make her point, Nilan will present Ryan, or his staff, with My Own Four Walls, an award-winning, poignant documentary she made featuring kids talking about their experiences of homelessness and what school means. She’ll also deliver the recently released American Almanac of Family Homelessness and hundreds of petitions signed by voters across the country.
Frustrated by the lack of hopeful signs at the hearing Ryan held a month ago, “War On Poverty: A Progress Report,” Nilan started planning. The hearing’s only credible witness, according to Nilan, was Sister Simone Campbell, the head of NETWORK, who has worked with people in poverty. She was given little time to make the case against offsetting the cost of war and tax cuts by ravaging the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Since Janesville isn’t far from the western suburbs of Chicago where she parks in between her filming and speaking engagements, Nilan decided to make the trip. She invited the Congressman to ride with her for a tour of his district’s poverty and homelessness, but realizes his schedule might not permit.
For the past 8 years, this intrepid activist has traveled over 167,000 miles of mostly backroads, filming kids and families sharing what it was like to be homeless. She started HEAR US Inc., her nonprofit, in 2005 following a long stint of running shelters and working with schools to make sure homeless students were properly enrolled, fighting on their behalf if they were not. Nilan worked hand-in-hand with Republican (retired) Congresswoman Judy Biggert to enact the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act. So it’s not partisan, she’s quick to emphasize.
To fuel her fire, Nilan will spend Thursday evening with homeless families in Madison, filming their stories. “These kids and parents have a lot to say about their plight and promise, but lack the opportunity to share their wisdom,” she pointed out. “I’m their instrument.”
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Contact Diane Nilan for more information: 630.267.5424