Focus On The Homeless

November 15, 2010

“Times are tough.”

“Everyone’s cutting back.”

“Wish I could, but you know how it is these days.”

Actually, I don’t think a lot of us really DO know how hard it is these days.  Sure, we’re all trying to watch our spending.  Clipping coupons.  Scaling back.  Being more conscious of our finances.

For anyone who’s still leading a life close to “normal”, it’s a lot different than someone who’s about to lose their home.  Or homeless.

Think of someone like Deb Clark, a crossing guard in Evanston, Illinois.  She’s been working for 20 years.  She’s got kids, grandkids.

She also cannot read.

The Chicago Public Schools she attended never employed teachers willing to help her become literate.  So, each year, they passed her to the next grade…not knowing how to read.

She recently faced eviction from her home, and only from the helpful interference from a community of parents did she find affordable housing for her family.

Here are two articles I’ve written about her:

And here’s some more press her story has garnered:,evanston-crossguard-102810-s11.article,0,3512367.story

The wonderful news is, with the help of the community, she’s moving into her own apartment where she’ll be able to keep working at the job she loves, live close to her family, and stay in the community that is looking out for her.  Once she’s settled in, she’ll be able to start literacy classes with folks ready to help her.

Here’s Deb getting a surprise:  Keys to her new apartment:

At the end of November, 2010, I told Debra I’d like to write a children’s book about her…one that she WILL someday read the students she loves and cares for every day.  She said she’d like that very much.  I’m determined to begin right away.

She’s one of the strongest, bravest women I’ve ever met.  When she shared with me her shame about being illiterate, I didn’t exactly know how to help her.  When she later shared with others she was facing homelessness, I knew her issues were far deeper and troubling than just learning to read.  Now that she’s been helped by such a loving and supportive community, I know how I can personally help her.  I will write a book she will be part of…and proud of.

May 2, 2011

My friend, Becca, recently had shoulder surgery.  Debora Clark, our crossing guard, heard about it and asked if I’d give Becca a get-well card from her.

“Of course!” I said.  “She’ll love it, Deb.”

“I gotta go get it and sign it.  I’ll bring it to you after school,” she said.

“Or I can get it from you tomorrow…whatever works…”

“No no no,” she insisted.  “I want her to get it right away.  I been thinkin’ about her, and I want her to know I been thinkin’ and hopin’ she be gettin’ better real fast.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll be in the small gym after school today for a Girl Scout meeting.  You can bring it there, okay?”

“Thank you so much,” she said.

After school, as the Girl Scout meeting started, Debora walked into the gym with a shy look on her face.  “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said.

Half the troop jumped up and surrounded her.  “Hi, Ms. Clark! Hi Debora!” they shouted, giving her hugs.  She held the card up high so it wouldn’t get smudged, hugging the girls with her free hand.

When Becca opened the card later, she showed me the inside.  It was signed, in pen, with very deliberate and simple letters:  Debora Clark.

I’m worried that she’s not enrolled in a reading class yet.  I’m worried she’s not getting the intervention she needs.  I’m worried that she’s been forgotten.  She has a new car and a new home and an new outlook on life, but her jobs are still the same:  she’s a crossing guard and a school cafeteria employee.  She’s still unable to read and write, with the exception of her name.

She’s a stalwart presence in our community, dependable and loving.  She cares deeply about the families she sees every day…

I’ve heard she’s been hesitant to sign up for literacy classes. I would be, too, if I had such a huge mountain to climb.  Where are all the sherpas who were willing to help her make the climb in November?

…I’m worried we’ve forgotten about her.


September 20, 2011

Just heard about a new book by Karen Skalitzky:  A Recipe for Hope: Stories of Transformation by People Struggling with Homelessness.

Check out the podcast.


2 responses to “Focus On The Homeless

  1. Christine,
    This is a wonderful outreach and so fabulous that people reached out to Deb. I’ve seen her every weekend at the Evanston Farmers’ market. Hard to find a more pleasant, friendly, helpful, outgoing woman! And people wonder why some people can’t compete. It’s disgusting that the schools failed her ( and so many) so dismally. Just look at all the good you’re doing with your blog and writing! Getting out news like this.

    • Thanks, Linda. I love this woman…and you just prompted me to provide an update on her…which is somewhat troubling. Trying to figure out what to do to help her…

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