More than 160,000 people in DuPage County live below the poverty line and are in danger of losing their homes. Wheaton resident Jill Markussen is using her own experience to educate others on the changing faces of homelessness. When Markussen used to tell people she was homeless, she would get looks of shock.
“People think of homeless and they think of people making bad choices or you know, winos, bag ladies,” said Markussen. “They don’t think of suburban families.”
But in DuPage County, the average age of a homeless person is eight. To spread the message that anyone can become homeless, Markussen and her not-for-profit Project Flipmode partnered with Bridge Communities to present the 2nd Annual New Face of Homelessness Symposium at the College of DuPage. This year the keynote address shared how one woman overcame poverty to become a successful career woman.
“I actually was the new face of homelessness, but had no idea that’s what I was,” said Karen Wells, Vice President of Strategy at McDonald’s.
As a child, Karen Wells, her siblings, and her mother moved in with her grandmother to escape an abusive father. Wells spent much of her childhood in impoverished neighborhoods. Today, she’s an executive at McDonald’s.
After the keynote address, attendees had their choice of breakout sessions. Each of the four sessions was led by an expert on an area that could lead to homelessness.
Bridge Communities’ Executive Director Joyce Hothan said that 37% of homeowners and 44% of renters in DuPage County are just one paycheck away from becoming homeless.
“We have people who are at the tipping point,” said Hothan. “That puts them at very high risk for homelessness if there is a further economic crisis in their life.”
Markussen believes that in order to solve a problem you have to know it exists, so the event was free to attend. Her short-term goal for the symposium is to raise awareness, but in the long-term, she hopes no person will have to know what’s it’s like to be homeless.
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