Saturday, November 7, 2015

HEAR US Wins National Award For Kansas Doubled-Up Film Project

[Naperville, IL 11-7-15
Kansas tornadoes, wind, rain, heat and cold. Heartbreaking stories of domestic violence, house fires, abject poverty and abuse. Diane Nilan blended these adversities into “Worn Out Welcome Mat - Kansas,” her latest documentary about the invisible crisis of doubled-up homelessness. Her efforts earned the Best Targeted Campaign Award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), to be presented at the organization’s national conference Nov. 15-17 in Phoenix. 

Nilan, president and founder of HEAR US Inc., the Naperville-based national nonprofit giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, has been on the road for the past 10 years chronicling the plight and promise of homeless children and youth. Her experience as shelter director and advocate for homeless students shaped her creation of HEAR US, a unique approach to raising awareness about an epidemic issue. She lives in a van and has traveled over 240,000 miles of mostly backroads, filming and presenting to audiences from Congress to California to “give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth,” a subpopulation of homeless persons she believes is in excess of 3 million babies, toddlers, children and youth. 

The Kansas State Department of Education homeless education state coordinator Tate Toedman invited Nilan to film doubled up families and youth to focus on the majority of Kansas homeless students. Of more than 10,000 homeless students identified by Kansas schools, over 80% experience doubled up, a much-misunderstood and under-identified situation. “Hardships experienced by doubled-up homeless students and families often escape the attention of school officials,” points out Toedman. “Families may just think they’re experiencing ‘hard times’ and don’t self-identify as homeless.” 

Worn Out Welcome Mat - KS will be screened at the NAEHCY conference, and also in Manhattan, KS for National Homelessness and Hunger week. Nilan screened her documentary in Georgia and Mississippi on her “10th Anniversary-10,000 Mile” trek. 

“The heartbreaking stories, told by the parents and students experiencing homelessness,” Nilan states, “will enlighten those who never thought doubled up was ‘so bad.’ It is worse than bad. And we urgently need to comprehensively acknowledge and address this issue.”

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Homelessness Activist Selected For Top Joliet Franciscan Honors

Press Release......................................................................................................For Immediate Release

[Naperville, IL] Despite all the trouble Diane Nilan caused the Joliet Franciscan Sisters, they will present her with the Mother Alfred Moes Award, their highest honor, for her decades of work with homeless children and adults. The presentation will be made during the Franciscan Autumn Fest, Oct. 25, at the Patrick C. Haley Mansion in Joliet. 

Nilan, with her long, speckled history with the Joliet Franciscans, credits them with her moral fortitude that galvanized her spirit to work on behalf of homeless children and adults. The Sisters taught her from 3rd grade through college, and for a time Nilan considered joining their ranks.  She is now founder and president of HEAR US Inc., a national nonprofit giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth.

In the mid-80s, Nilan spearheaded the Joliet’s first homeless shelter, Will County PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), now Daybreak. After leaving Joliet, Nilan ran the PADS shelter at Hesed House in Aurora for many years, leading efforts to start the Rainbow Clinic and spurring legislative advocacy campaigns that gave Illinois homeless persons the right to vote, established the IL Housing Trust Fund, and guaranteed access to education for homeless students, in Illinois then nationwide.
According to Nilan, the only thing she and Mother Alfred Moes, a woman who didn’t hesitate to respond to desperate needs around her, have in common is that both taught at St. John’s School in Joliet. 

Not surprisingly, the Sisters disagree. The Mother Alfred Moes Award “honors the pioneering spirit that exists in an individual…one who is a visionary just as Mother Alfred was.” Along with Nilan, the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic will be honored for their work with the medically underserved.

According to the Sisters, “The foundress of the Joliet Franciscans, Mother Alfred Moes, was a woman ahead of her time. She was a pioneer, a visionary, who used her own dowry to transform her vision into service.  Mother Alfred responded not only to the needs of the people of Joliet, but wherever the need of communities across the country called her.”

For the past 10 years, Nilan has been living in a small motorhome, traveling over 225,000 miles in 48 states, chronicling the plight and promise of homeless families and youth under the banner of her unconventional one-woman nonprofit organization, HEAR US ( She’s made several documentaries and short videos of those experiencing homelessness sharing their stories. Her latest was just released, Worn out Welcome Mat - Kansas

Nilan learned  RVing and videography on the road. She relentlessly pursues audiences from Congress to California, exposing them to little-known realities experienced by millions of invisible homeless families and youth. 

“When all is said and done,” said Nilan, “the Joliet Franciscans have shaped me more than I’ll ever realize. Franciscan values have affected my life choices. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.” 

For reservations or more information about the event, 815-725-8735, x116.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Invisible Homeless Families and Youth in Kansas: New Documentary Tells Their Stories

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Diane Nilan,, 630-267-5424

Worn Out Welcome Mat — Kansas,” a documentary providing the first in-depth look at invisible homeless families and youth in Kansas, will be released Friday, Sept. 4 on the HEAR US Inc. website.

PREVIEW FILM Worn Out Welcome Mat

Commissioned by the Kansas State Department of Education’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program, this 21-minute film takes viewers across Kansas to hear from parents and youth who lost housing and had nowhere to go. Diane Nilan, HEAR US president and founder, began filming this documentary in February 2015. 
One woman, a Marine, with her 4-year-old daughter, talks about going from “having everything to having nothing…” Another woman with a social work degree and a 13-year-old daughter, contemplated moving into their storage unit because they couldn’t get into overcrowded shelters. Domestic violence forced one mother and her 11-year-old son to bounce from family to acquaintances because they had nowhere to go, her son getting in trouble for “issues” like running too much bath water. A school social worker shared her story of being kicked out as a youth, and homeless again when her house trailer was repossessed, leaving her and her young son on the streets.
Nilan, who ran shelters in Illinois for many years, has been on the road for the past 10 years, living in a small motorhome, traveling backroads to chronicle family and youth homelessness. Her award-winning documentaries give those experiencing homelessness the opportunity to be seen and heard—dispelling myths and empowering those too often homeless and invisible in communities across the nation.

This film project is the second in the Worn Out Welcome Mat series; the first was in Texas (2013). Because homeless families and youth have nowhere to go—no shelters available in most areas and no other resources—they often double up with family, friends or acquaintances, bouncing around as they are faced with the “worn out welcome mat” syndrome. Too often they are not identified as homeless, nor do they realize that’s what their plight is called.
Schools in Kansas have identified over 10,000 homeless students last year. Over 80% were doubled up. Tate Toedman, KS State Department of Education’s state coordinator overseeing homeless education, points out that this film will be invaluable when training school personnel, “These are our families and young people. We need to make sure they at least have access to education. This film will open eyes and minds!”
“These are our families and young people. We need to make sure they at least have access to education. This film will open eyes and minds!”
Nilan will screen Worn Out Welcome Mat - KS at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth  annual conference in Phoenix this November.

The documentary will be available for individual viewing on the HEAR US website ( and on DVDs for larger audiences. DVDs will be available for $15 (includes shipping/handling). Contact

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

NIU Students To Rally for Homeless Children and Youth; Launching HEAR US 10th Year

HEAR US founder Diane Nilan stands alongside
her new motorhome, which serves as her home,
office and vehicle.
[Naperville and DeKalb, IL, Nov. 15, 2014]  Nomadic activist Diane Nilan will enlist students at Northern Illinois University in a grass-roots campaign to increase awareness of homeless families and youth as she screens her latest documentary, Worn Out Welcome Mat, on Nov. 18 for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. 

Nilan launches her 10th year on the road with this NIU event. On Nov. 18, 2005, this former shelter director set out on a quest to chronicle the invisible issue of family and youth homelessness nationwide. She sold her townhouse and purchased a small motorhome which she's lived in since then. Nilan started her nonprofit HEAR US Inc. to give voice and visibility to millions of babies, toddlers, children and youth. NIU professor Laura Vazquez has partnered with Nilan to create several award-winning documentaries. 

Worn Out Welcome Mat features families and youth living in doubled up situations, the most common and most misunderstood manifestation of homelessness. This 20-min film exposes the myths commonly attributed to those with nowhere to go who bounce around in tentative arrangements to avoid sleeping on the streets. Several homeless teens shared their stories.

HEAR US Inc. has actively solicited support for the Homeless Children and Youth Act, a measure being considered in Congress to force HUD to expand their narrow definition of “homeless” to include those doubled up and in non-sheltered situations like motels and campgrounds. Participants at the film screening will be asked to petition their member of Congress to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation.

“Tragically, millions of invisible youth and families pay the price for HUD’s unwillingness to address the true scope of homelessness in America,” Nilan points out. Students can make a difference by their simple act of contacting their Representative, a task made easy on the Take Action page of the website

The National Coalition for the Homeless created National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week to encourage non-homeless persons to reflect on the inequities of food and shelter in the United States. Last year over 700 groups participated. NIU has several activities planned for the week. Nilan serves on the board of NCH.

The film and short discussion will take place from 3-4 pm in the Holmes Student Center, Room 305. This event is cosponsored by Poverty & Inequality Research-to-Action Collaborative, Center for NGO Leadership and Development, Department of Psychology, and Department of Public Administration. Admission is free. For information, call the NGOLD Center at 815-753-4410.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Serendipity and Need: Doc and Homeless Advocate Reconnect

September 19, 2014

For Immediate Release
Contact: Diane Nilan, 630/267-5424

Diane Nilan (L) and Karen Maloney inside Tillie, the
good Karma motorhome being exchanged. 
[Naperville, IL] “Dialing for docs” 20 years ago connected Diane Nilan, former shelter director at
Hesed House in Aurora with Dr. Karen Maloney, a physician from the St. Charles area. Nilan was recruiting volunteer medical personnel for Rainbow Clinic at the former incinerator turned shelter. On Monday, Nilan will hand over the keys to her motorhome to Maloney, solving a problem for both women.

The two met again at a volunteer mission in Tanzania in 2013. “It was great to catch up and learn that our paths never veered too far away,” said Nilan, founder/president of a one-woman national nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth.

Nine years ago, she sold her townhome and 
Nilan and Tillie in Nevada
most of her stuff to purchase a 27’motorhome to enable her to chronicle homelessness among millions of children, youth and families nationwide. Nilan put on 183,000 miles as she filmed several award-winning documentaries and conducted countless presentations to raise awareness of kids and parents with nowhere to go.

The time came to sell “Tillie the Turtle,” her 9-year-old motorhome, and only home, but Nilan could find no buyers. Maloney, starting a program to provide medical care to uninsured residents and homeless persons in the western suburbs, needed a motorhome, but her nonprofit Carein' Connections lacked the funds to buy one. Nilan happened to mention she was trying to sell Tillie. Serendipity? Perhaps.

On Monday, Nilan will hand over Tillie’s keys to her doc-friend, knowing that the legacy of this roadworthy motorhome will continue. Maloney will adapt the inside space to provide medical care and other services to those who lack resources for basic human needs, especially medical care.

Wednesday, after an early morning prayer breakfast presentation in Joliet, Nilan will point her rental van to Austin, TX where her new set of wheels await. She’s downsizing, making it possible for her to pursue stories of homeless children and youth in far off places in a more economically and ecofriendly fashion.

Her first Tillie2 trip will be with her “Babes of Wrath” pal Pat LaMarche on a trip to Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. The intrepid travelers have dubbed their trip “Homeless on the Range,” designed to call attention to homelessness, even on a Native American reservation.

Maloney and her colleagues need to quickly shape and stock Tillie into the medical miracle van that will serve hundreds of uninsured, desperate adults and kids.

These two nonprofits, and their unique founders, will carry on their essential missions, knowing that their paths will inevitably cross, and that lots of people will be better for it.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Peter Yarrow Headlines 20 Year Celebration of Homeless Children's Education Rights

[May 1, 2014, Naperville, IL] Michael’s the engineer. Shantrice is the doctor. Justin’s a chef. Twenty years ago they, along with their mother Tyeast Boatwright, were homeless. On May 8 at Copley Theater in Aurora, just up the road from Hesed House, the former incinerator turned center for ministry where they lived, a celebration will take place.

Back in August 1993, Ms. Boatwright’s three children were denied their right to stay in Indian Prairie District 204 schools they attended before becoming homeless. That conflict, settled against the family in court, led to 1994 passage of the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, the first state legislation in the nation to clarify the civil rights of homeless students. During months of court appearances and legislative hearings, Ms. Boatwright spoke up for her children, keeping them out of the massive media coverage.

Diane Nilan, president and founder of the national Naperville-based nonprofit HEAR US, hoped to reconnect with this family for years as she traversed the country in her small motorhome raising awareness of homeless children and youth. On the road since 2005, the former shelter director at Hesed House has made several acclaimed documentaries used to enlighten and inspire audiences about the plight and promise of homeless families and youth. 

After failing to locate Ms. Boatwright, she turned to the HEAR US board for help, and they succeeded. In several conversations with her last month, the two got caught up on the past 20 years. Among other topics, the success of Boatwright's three children delighted Nilan. Sadly, the family will not be able to attend the May 8 event.

The Illinois law, nicknamed “Charlie’s Bill” for the bill’s poster child, 4-year-old Charles depicted in
photojournalist Pat Van Doren’s compelling photo, provided the major substance for enhancing the federal legislation, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act of 2001. Now-retired Congresswoman Judy Biggert (IL-13, R) championed the legislation in Washington. She is co-chair of the May 8 event.

Nilan hopes that families staying at Hesed House in 1993 and beyond will attend the event. The camaraderie during the court fight and subsequent legislative advocacy campaign provided an empowering undercurrent for their shelter stay. “These families benefited by the courageous action of Ms. Boatwright and her children, and by the enlightened action of the Illinois legislature,” Nilan said. She points out that millions of homeless students have also benefited by this little-heralded civil rights legislation.

HEAR US will honor The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Professor Laura Vazquez, Northern Illinois University documentary maker, for their efforts on behalf of homeless children/youth educational rights.

The event begins at 6:30 and is open to the public. Suggested donation is $10 to benefit HEAR US. Area chefs Francois and Betsy Sanchez, longtime supporters of Nilan’s efforts, are providing substantial hors d oeuvres for the event. A cash bar will be available. HEAR US books and videos will be available for purchase.  More information available at

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Forget Me Not: Reminder To Illinois Legislators Not to Forget Homeless Children

Good News: 
Strong Homeless Students’ Educational Rights.
Bad News: 
Record Number of Homeless Students and Scant Resources.

The official parchment scroll proclaims May 2014 as Homeless Students’ Educational Rights Month, signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Advocates and supporters will gather on May 8 in Aurora to commemorate the 20th anniversary of hallmark civil rights legislation, the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, and urge restoration of $3 million of state funds to help homeless kids.

Twenty years ago, Illinois legislators established strong educational rights for homeless students, passing Charlie’s Bill, named for Pat Van Doren’s image of a captivating 4-year-old boy that adorned every piece of literature promoting the bill. The law removed barriers commonly experienced by homeless students and guided schools to help the students succeed. In 2001, federal legislation based on the Illinois law passed, ensuring access to school for homeless students nationwide.

Advocates will utilize momentum from this 20th anniversary commemoration to push for more resources to help homeless students. Illinois lawmakers removed $3 million to help homeless families and youth from the budget following the 2008-09 school year.  
Since then, schools have identified almost 55,000 students without homes, more than double the census in 2009.
“It doesn’t do any good to have a proclamation if we don’t have the resources to back it up,” declared Diane Nilan, founder and president of HEAR US, a Naperville-based national nonprofit advocacy organization. Nilan ran the shelter at Hesed House in Aurora and was part of the effort to pass the state and federal legislation to remove barriers for homeless students. HEAR US is the sponsor of the May 8 event featuring Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is spearheading the campaign to restore the $3 million. They point to the “109% increase in identified homeless students statewide since 2008-09 when $3 million in homeless education funding was last included in the state budget.” Funding will help ensure immediate enrollment of homeless students, reduce truancy, provide academic support, including transportation, and augment local services to help students and their families.

Nilan has worked with the Law Project for decades. She created the Forget Me Not campaign to restore the $3 million. HEAR US will recognize the Law Project at the May 8 event, which features a performance by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. They will invite the audience to contact their lawmakers and urge restoration of the funding.

The May 8 event is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $10 for the 6:30 reception and concert at Copley Theater, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. More information available at

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