Hiding in Plain Sight

by Northlight Theatre
Lisa Todd, Community Relations Manager for Connections for the Homeless, shares her experience with Skeleton Crew and her work with prevention and housing programs.


I recently went to see Skeleton Crew  at Northlight Theatre, a play by Dominique Morisseau. I was thrilled, without giving too much away, to see the people we serve represented so fairly. The play looks at an automotive plant about to close in Detroit and the various consequences for the blue collar workers the company had depended on. The characters reminded me of our participants at Connections for the Homeless. We are an organization that has been serving the North Shore and the greater Chicagoland area for over 30 years, providing housing, shelter, and prevention services to about a 1,000 people each year. Our mission is to catalyze and serve the community to end homelessness one person at a time.

The play has stuck with me and in part, motivated me to ask someone who I was talking with, “Why do you think people become homeless?” I was shocked when they answered with such immovable certainty and without pause, “It’s mental illness and I know this is true because I’ve seen it.”

It’s hard to argue with things that people have seen. The problem is that there are whole categories of things that we don’t see or experience or feel because we are living a different life.

In the realm of homelessness, the chronically homeless are most frequently “seen.” Chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for more than a year or having multiple episodes of homelessness in a three-year period. We see them outside, under viaducts or sleeping in parks. Nationally, they make up 24% of the entire homeless population.

Which means, 76% of the people who are experiencing homelessness, are largely invisible to us, hidden. Or as I frequently say, they are folks whose second full-time job is making sure no one knows they are homeless. They are people like Skeleton Crew‘s Faye – proud, hard working and very scared.

Almost every single one of the residents at Hilda’s Place Shelter (our shelter for homeless men, located in Evanston) is working when they leave the shelter in the morning. The parents in our housing programs and young men at Our House (a home for formerly homeless 18-24 year olds) are juggling work and/or school.

People become homeless for a lot of reasons. The most significant reason is that affordable housing keeps shrinking while wages stagnate. It’s simple math. Expenses are too high and income is too low. And when life happens, a burst appendix or a car accident, there is no safety net.

I hope you will take the time to watch this video which Connections for the Homeless debuted just this month. In addition to highlighting the resilience of two amazing women in our housing program, some of the footage is from our Family Nights and agency Thanksgiving celebration, moments that remind me that homelessness is an experience not a personal identity. To learn more about Connections for the Homeless, go to connect2home.org.