Families and teens typically represent the INVISIBLE segment of the homeless population.

HEAR US seeks to give voice and visibility to homeless children, teens and families.

This Media Center page will hopefully inspire some much-needed coverage of this issue and give readers valuable info on HEAR US materials that can help enlighten educators, lawmakers and the public.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Peter Yarrow to Perform At HEAR US Event for Homeless Children

Peter Yarrow greets Diane. (photo courtesy HEAR US Inc.)
[Naperville, IL, April 2, 2014] Peter Yarrow, of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, will perform in Aurora, IL on May 8 for a civil rights gathering, the 20th Anniversary of Charlie’s Bill, the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act.

Diane Nilan, president of HEAR US Inc., the national nonprofit sponsoring the May 8 event, describes the importance of that law, “The one sentiment emphatically echoed over the past twenty years: ‘I am so glad I (my children) can go to school.’ For homeless students, that universal experience is not to be taken for granted.”  Passage of the law was the result of a courageous mother from Aurora who fought when her three children were denied school because of homelessness.  A small group of activists 20 years ago successfully led Illinois to be first state to guarantee educational rights to homeless students. The law has been expanded on a federal level, applying to all public schools.

“How did you get Peter Yarrow to agree to come?” is a question Nilan hears often. This lifetime Peter, Paul and Mary devotee, has met Yarrow on a number of occasions. “I suspected that few beyond our circle would grasp the importance of the milestone of millions of homeless kids being able to attend school,” she observed. “So I asked and he agreed.” His presence is the spark needed to highlight the issue of soaring poverty and homelessness among families and youth.

Using the image of Charlie, a small homeless boy whose iconic image was captured by photojournalist Pat Van Doren, the group lobbied to remove common barriers experienced by homeless students. The bill passed in May 1994 and became the model for national legislation.

The latest U.S. Department of Education data illustrates the drastic increase in homelessness identified in public schools. A record 1.2 million students were identified as homeless, a 72% increase since 2007. That doesn’t include babies, toddlers, teens not attending school, or parents.

The May 8 event will be a combination songfest and inspiration for attendees. Organizers will pay tribute to those who have steadfastly upheld rights for homeless students to attend school. And they will issue the challenge to increase advocacy efforts on behalf of homeless families and youth, many of whom are not considered “homeless enough” to merit assistance, Nilan said.

The public is invited to attend the gathering which begins at 6:30 with substantial hors d’ oeuvres by noted area chefs Francois and Betsy Sanchez. Suggested donation is $10, proceeds will benefit HEAR US Inc. More information, http://hearus.us.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Plea Issued for Supplies for Joliet-area Homeless Families, Students

[Naperville, IL, March 7] 

nilanDiane Nilan, founder of Will County’s first homeless shelter (Will County PADS), returns to Joliet early next week to be honored by her alma mater, University of St. Francis, on Wednesday evening, 7:00 at the Sue Turk Theater. Nilan has been chosen for the Sister Clare Award, given to honor “women of vision who have transformed the world in their time…who make a positive, transformative impact in the community; inspire and serve as role models for other women; and are committed to …society.

When asked how the University of St. Francis could help her nonprofit organization, Nilan suggested a collection of items for both Daybreak shelter and District 86’s homeless student program. Items needed include: diapers, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrushes, shower gel, razors, underwear, socks, and sweatpants. Additionally, District 86 needs school supplies and packs of kids’ underwear, kids’ socks, and gift cards. Drop-off: 1433 Essington Road, Joliet or bring to Wednesday evening’s event.

In September, before leaving on her latest trip, she visited with Courtney Suchor, Daybreak shelter director. “I was delightfully impressed with the scope of their program,” Nilan observed. “But I shudder to think of all the families they must turn away.” While in New York City at a conference in January, Diane also connected with Alice Manning-Dowd, District 86’s homeless liaison. They knew each other when Nilan was working with Chicago area districts on implementing the federal homeless education law.

“These 2 essential programs serve a hidden population in the community,” Nilan pointed out. Her work with HEAR US Inc., the organization she founded in 2005, takes her across the country chronicling the plight and promise of invisible homeless children and youth. “It takes a lot to shock me, but I’m astounded and appalled at how widespread family and youth homelessness is nationwide,” Nilan lamented.

Marilyn McGowan, an Associate with the Joliet Franciscans and HEAR US board member who’s known Diane since they were in college, nominated her. “I have been inspired by what this one person is trying to do through her work,” McGowan said. She is encouraging people to donate to a matching fund created in honor of Nilan’s Sister Clare Award that will support HEAR US’s unique and essential work. Donations up to $10,000 will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. Information, including the article and donation link, may be found on www.hearus.us.

The Sister Clare Award will be presented at 7 pm followed by a reception. Nilan, returning from months filming and speaking across the country, looks forward to reconnecting with families and friends she knew in her 20 years living in Joliet. She’ll stay her motorhome on the USF campus Tuesday through Thursday so she can speak to students on the topic of family/youth homelessness.

Her dream for her return to Joliet? A generous community response to the collection of items for homeless families. “May the pile be as high as the piles of snow that afflict the area!”
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Friday, February 28, 2014

Sister Clare Award for Rolling Activist

[Naperville, IL, 2/28/14] Diane Nilan, selected for the University of St. Francis Sister Clare Award, is in some ways the least likely choice. The bumper sticker displayed inside her road-weary motorhome gives a clue: Well-behaved women seldom make history.  Despite the contrast, for her unconventional and unrelenting efforts as an activist for homeless families, Nilan will receive her recognition in Joliet on March 12 at USF, 7 p.m. in Sue Turk Hall.

40 years after graduating from the College of St. Francis, 23 years after leaving this city where she spent the first segment of her adult life, Nilan (bio, PDF) will roll into town following a 6-month stint of mostly solo cross-country travel where she filmed and produced a new documentary, Worn Out Welcome Mat, and addressed a variety of audiences on the issue of invisible homelessness, particularly families and youth. Nilan sold her townhome in 2005 to take to the nation’s backroads, living in Tillie, her small motorhome.

This award has generated a considerable opportunity for Nilan’s nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc., thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor who will match every dollar, up to $10,000, raised in honor of the Sister Clare Award. Board member Marilyn McGowan, who nominated Nilan for this honor, stresses that her frugal one-woman operation makes a major impact on a national level. “Diane can quietly sit and listen to a mother’s devastating story of homelessness and convert those stories into powerful advocacy and awareness tools,” points out McGowan.

“I’ve never totally left Joliet,” Nilan admits. She’s still in contact with former students and even some people she once assisted at the Will County PADS program, the precursor to Catholic Charities’ Daybreak Shelter she started while she worked at Catholic Charities in the mid-‘80s. When notified of the USF honors and asked what people could bring to the award ceremony to help her work, Nilan demurred, offering to generate needed supplies for Daybreak and local homeless students instead. Those attending the award ceremony are asked to bring nonperishable food items for Daybreak or school supplies for Joliet District 86’s homeless students.

Nilan chuckles when she reflects on her activism, incubated during her CSF days. “We created a ruckus over the quality of food the cafeteria served,” but also focused on other weighty issues, including the Viet Nam war. She provided leadership for humanitarian causes, almost flunking out of college in the process. “I give a lot of credit to the Joliet Franciscans,” Nilan admits. “They managed to hone my leadership skills in such a way to not discourage my efforts to seek justice on behalf of the oppressed.”

After leaving Joliet in 1990, she directed the PADS shelter at Hesed House in Aurora for 13 years, simultaneously working on Charlie’s Bill, a successful venture to guarantee access to education for the state’s homeless students. The bill passed 20 years ago and served as model legislation for the nation, thanks in part to a partnership between Nilan and (Ret.) Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL).

Implementing that legislation, the McKinney-Vento HomelessEducation Assistance Act of 2001, has been Nilan’s focus since it passed. She oversaw 305 Chicagoland school districts’ compliance with the law, and in 2005, when that project shifted, she took to the backroads of the U.S. to film a documentary of what students thought about their experiences of homelessness and what school meant to them to help educators and other audiences better understand the plight of millions of children and youth.

And now she’s come full circle, returning to her roots to accept this honor, but not standing still for long. She’s scheduled for a trip to New York in April.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Homeless Kydz and Nilan to Make Doorstep Delivery To Mr. Ryan

[Naperville, 8/28/13] If she could, Diane Nilan would amass 3,000 children outside the Janesville
district office of Mr. Paul Ryan, the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means committee. But she’ll only have about a dozen with her early Friday morning, Aug. 30.

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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ryan Says Obama's Out of Touch With Poverty; National Advocate Agrees and Offers to Take Congressman For Homelessness Tour

For Immediate Release:
HEAR US Implores Congressman Ryan to Consider Homeless Families/Youth 
in Budget Decisions; Will Deliver Stacks of Petitions and Compelling Testimony to 
Janesville Office Friday. 

[Naperville, IL, 8/26/13] The faces and voices of homeless children and youth not seen or heard in the Beltway will be quite visible in the Janesville district office of Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Friday, August 30 as Diane Nilan, a national advocate for this invisible population, delivers hundreds of petitions and provides compelling testimony from homeless parents and kids nationwide.

Nilan and her motorhome

Nilan, under the banner of HEAR US Inc., her national nonprofit created to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, has chronicled homeless families and youth for the past 8 years. She travels in, works from, and lives in a small motorhome, dubbed Tillie the Turtle, and has amassed over 167,000 miles since she first set out in 2005. Following 15 years running homeless shelters and 2 years working with Chicago area school districts to ensure homeless students’ access to school, she’s taken to the highways to raise this largely invisible issue to a more visible level.

“Maybe Congressman Ryan does not know that at least 3,000 students in his district have no place to call home,” Nilan pointed out. “Wisconsin has a huge homelessness and poverty crisis, and I want to urge him to address it.” Her concern, however, is the Congressman is poised to slash programs that provide survival level services for the most vulnerable.

Since Friday, Nilan has asked her widespread network to petition Mr. Ryan’s office, urging him to at least meet with her, if not take a ride to witness poverty and homelessness in his district. Participation in her petition drive indicates she’ll have hundreds to deliver. She’ll speak with WI families, and film stories of their homelessness prior to her Friday meeting. “Sadly, homeless families and youth in Wisconsin reflect what I’ve seen everywhere I’ve been,” she lamented. “The most tragic part of this is how Congress, both parties, has seen fit to inflict more pain instead of addressing the causes of this skyrocketing crisis.”

This determined woman points to national statistics that support her claim. The U.S. Department of Education reported over 1 million homeless students identified in 2011-12, a steadily increasing number, especially during the nation’s economic meltdown. Foreclosures, medically related bankruptcies and unemployment statistics add fuel to her fire. “I’ve seen more shuttered businesses, for sale signs, and desperate people in my 8 years than I would have ever imagined possible,” she stated. “For Congress to continue to ignore hundreds of millions of Americans, including millions of people without homes, in lieu of tax cuts for the richest households is unconscionable.”

In addition to the pile of petitions and heartbreaking stories from across the land, she’s counting on the faces of children that accompany her, both on her motorhome and as life-sized cardboard cutouts. This respected advocate will do everything in her power to bring those faces and voices to the decision makers who hold the power to make things better, or worse. “I will ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’ as much as possible,” she promised. And on Friday, she will deliver.

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Contact Diane Nilan, 630.267.5424