CCH leader Taishi Neuman is among 26 community leaders honored by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a national funder based in Seattle.
Hero’s name: Taishi Neuman
Home city: Chicago
Organization affiliation: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
How does the person’s work advance social justice? What is the person’s vision for an equitable world?
“Taishi Neuman is inspired to help families coping with poverty. First homeless at age 15, she experienced homelessness again when multiple sclerosis left her unable to work as a nursing home assistant.
She thought she was too reserved to speak up, until Taishi met a community organizer from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). He was running an outreach session, telling parents at her transitional housing program how they could speak up about school issues.
‘I asked him, ‘How can I get on board with this?’ I explained that I’m a little shy, so I’m not sure I could do all that talking. But a lot of things that J.D. (the community organizer) said to get me to open up were true. He said, ‘Your story can take people a long way. You never know what someone else is going through unless you open up and tell your story.’’
Four years later, she no longer feels timid.
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Active with the CCH Speakers Bureau, Taishi became a parent leader on the HomeWorks campaign. After 18 months of advocacy, parent leaders on its Education Committee persuaded Chicago Public Schools to enact a stronger homeless education policy, protecting the rights of the city’s 18,000 homeless students.
Taishi joined other homeless parents in speaking out at Board of Education meetings, testifying at eight meetings about problems in their schools.
The 1996 policy needed to be updated, but CPS first drafted a policy only two paragraphs long. Among later drafts, CPS proposed ending transportation assistance for students who live less than 1.5 miles from school.
That was scrapped after the Education Committee invited a top mayoral aide to walk with them through a West Side neighborhood.
The 6-page policy adopted last April guarantees homeless students are enrolled immediately. The policy also allows immediate and full participation in sports and activities and provides supplies, uniforms, school fee waivers, free meals and tutoring services.
Taishi says an equitable world would not allow children to be homeless more than a few weeks, especially when so many abandoned buildings could be converted to family housing. She is pleased her work inspires her daughters, who with their infant foster brother, are often at her side for meetings and advocacy trips.
‘My baby girl tells me, ‘Mom, me and Morgan want to be just like you. We want to help the world.’ And my older girl was asking: ‘When are we going to Springfield again? We need to tell the legislators: Where’s the money for our schools?’”
Honored by: Anne Bowhay of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless