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 www.hearus.us.

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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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