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.”

# # #

 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.

# # #

Contact Diane Nilan, 630.267.5424

Monday, April 29, 2013

Homeless Mother’s Day Tribute: Suffer In Silence No More

Seven women share their stories of homelessness that resound nationwide and throughout
Melissa, one of the OTE women
affluent DuPage County.
[Naperville, IL, April 29, 2013] The award-winning documentary, on the edge: Family Homelessness in America, riveting stories of seven women’s experiences of homelessness, returns to Naperville Friday, May 10, 7 pm, the monthly feature of DuPage Peace With Justice Coalition’s Just Views film night.

“This is a timely event, on Mother’s Day weekend, because of millions of invisible mothers who experience homelessness,” points out Diane Nilan, founder and president of HEAR US Inc., a Naperville-based national nonprofit to give voice and visibility to homeless families. Nilan and Professor Laura Vazquez filmed and produced the documentary, which has won several honors and has aired on PBS.

Listening to mothers speak of their path to and through homelessness gives a perspective not often considered, according to Nilan, a national authority on this issue. “The audience response to this film continues to be quite gratifying," she pointed out. She’s screened OTE to a variety of audiences from Congress to corrections’ facilities to colleges as she’s traveled for the past 8 years in her small motorhome on her mission to incite a “compassion epidemic” to address homelessness. “Audiences hear the stories of experts, women who capably articulate the challenges of homelessness from their day-to-day struggles. As sad as their stories are, they are also inspiring.”

The film has relevance here in DuPage, one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Many families experiencing homelessness in the area are invisible, not staying at shelters. With over 17,000 in the county living in deep poverty, half the poverty level, thousand of families and individuals fall into and face a steep climb out of homelessness, with shelter beds full and subsidized housing unavailable.  The sequester and continuing economic unrest will add to these numbers.

Nilan will lead a discussion following the film screening. The event, held at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist church, 1828 Old Naperville Rd., Naperville, is open to the public, no charge. Copies of the on the edge DVDs will be available for sale at the event, $30. Info or

# # #

Thursday, January 17, 2013

‘Bring It On!’ Kick-off of Cross-Country Tour on Behalf of Homeless Kids and Families

Photo (c) Diane Nilan

[Naperville, IL, 1/17/13] Winter weather at its worst. Blinding dust storms. Scorn from unenlightened community members. Seemingly endless, stark drives wrapped around arduous events. “Bring it on!” two determined women (Pat LaMarche and Diane Nilan) dare Mother Nature. Traveling as the Babes of Wrath on behalf of homeless children, families and youth, these two women are about to embark on a grueling month-long, 5,000-mile awareness-raising tour of the southwest part of this country.

This tour, of their own free will under the banner of HEARUS Inc., Nilan’s Naperville-based nonprofit organization, begins Tuesday, 1/22 in Little Rock, AR. Beleaguered local service providers along the route are eager for the Babes to land in their cities and towns. “We’re so glad SOMEONE is doing advocacy,” one shelter director told Nilan. She bemoaned HUD’s ineffective “structure” supposedly addressing homelessness on a local level, known as the “continuum of care,” local agency representatives charged with translating inadequate U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resources into services for homeless persons.

One critical issue in discussions with concerned local leaders is a dreadful one—how families with babies and toddlers are ignored, part of the pattern of abuse and neglect perpetuated at the federal level. The consensus: families have never been a priority. In fact, they are very low on HUD's homeless subpopulations served (and funded).

HUD says they’re allowing the local community to set priorities as they point out that there's enough federal money to go around. In this imperfect world, the “Littles” lose.

When the Littlest Nomads (babies and toddlers, with parents) are ignored, it creates a feeder program of homeless adults. Little kids, in their prime growth stage, miss out on nurturing, nutrition, developmental opportunities, and they absorb the toxic influences—emotional and environmental. They’re ill-prepared for school and they often struggle and fail. Chances are their family’s housing situation remains precarious. Poverty follows them everywhere.

When these kids end up as homeless adults, no one should be surprised. But everyone with the power to do something should be ashamed. The feds get left off the hook when local communities try to do things on their own. For every local community able to step up to the daunting challenge of providing housing and other essential services to impoverished families, hundreds—or thousands—cannot, or will not, do the job.

Pat (L) and Diane
on their 2011
Southern Discomfort tour
Pat and Diane, Babes of Wrath, will listen, learn and challenge communities large and small to bolster their local efforts and to let their elected officials know that this is very much like the Great Depression, with millions of people—babies, toddlers, kids, parents, and single adults—in need of life-saving shelter, food, heath care and other vital services. LaMarche will blog on Huffington Post, Nilan on Alternet.

Their message will make them as popular as the great dust clouds that continue to batter the southwestern part of the country. But, as history teaches, eventually Depression era officials caught on and implemented common sense dust-reduction strategies. With homeless people small and large rolling like tumbleweed across the land, this nation’s approach toward homelessness needs rethinking. Sooner rather than later, they hope.

# # #

Most Important News of the Day

For Immediate Release

Contact: Pat LaMarche
                    Diane Nilan, 630-267-5424
                    Mary Ann Parks

This Is the Most Important News of the Day
Homeless People Around the Nation Would Beg You to Cover It: 
If they weren’t busy begging for a home.

Long time homeless advocates, Diane Nilan and Pat LaMarche, begin a 4600 mile trek across the lower half of the wealthiest nation in the world on Monday.  But with the inaugural, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the National Rifle Associations’s Gun Appreciation day, the cause of homelessness is at risk of receiving little no coverage at all.  

Pat LaMarche (L) and
Diane Nilan at a screening
of "on the edge: Family
Homelessness in America,"
in Mobile, AL 2/11
“Not one of these 'bigger stories' is independent of the issue of homelessness.  President Obama’s re-election and consequent 2nd inaugural came about in no small part because his opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney, maligned the needy in his infamous 47% quote,” explained LaMarche.  “One of our greatest civil rights advocates who we honor this week spoke of the economic and social ills which plagued our nation and subjugated its people,” continued LaMarche. 

“And then there’s domestic violence – which cannot be separated from the other issues of gun violence in this nation – which is a leading cause of homelessness. We predict that not a single sound bite will be devoted to this national scourge.  How can anyone wave a flag in patriotism knowing that millions of their countrymen languish in poverty?” queried Nilan, founder and director of HEAR US, a national advocacy group for homeless children, youth and their families. 

So these two women –  who have both authored books about their experiences living with, working with, and living as homeless people – will set out across the nation to share the experience of a new year’s homeless population. 

“Some places we go we’ll talk about what we’ve learned in our years working with the poor and disenfranchised, but more often we’ll listen,” explained LaMarche who will be gathering new material for her writing.  “And Diane will screen her award winning documentaries about the homeless folks she’s encountered.” 

“Most of all,” Nilan added, “we hope to help the advocates on the ground in local America, USA, to tell their stories to their local media.  Once you get to know people experiencing homelessness, you realize it’s not an us/them issue: it’s an all of us issue.”

Links to LaMarche and Nilan’s books as well as Nilan’s documentaries are available at The map of their journey as well as itinerary are available there as well as at the EPIC Journey facebook page.