Ashley Paige Allen’s experience with homelessness began as a child, when her father was sent to prison, leaving her mother to raise three children alone. It was difficult to pay rent and bills with the $8 hourly wage her mother earned as a retail clerk. Ashley and her family spent more than a decade living in family shelters, doubled-up with relatives, or in low-rent housing and hotels to keep a roof over their heads. Ashley now holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in her field. A passion for working with teens, Ashley works for Horizons for Youth and has served on the CCH College Scholarship selection committee. She co-chairs the EMBODI Initiative through Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a male mentoring program. Ashley is a proud homeowner, active in improving the city’s Bronzeville community.
Photos of Ashley Allen, Charles Jenkins, Leeanna Majors, and Cassie Sahler were taken through a partnership with StoryCorps.
Gloria Davis grew up on Chicago’s South Side of Chicago in the Robert Taylor public housing projects. While growing up, Gloria witnessed violence and hardship in her neighborhood. She became involved with drugs, a struggle she lived with for many years. In 2013, Gloria became homeless and entered treatment at the Haymarket Center. Since then, Gloria has advocated with CCH for an increase in the state minimum wage and with the Reentry Project. Gloria has talked to dozens of legislators about measures that would end barriers to housing and work for ex-offenders. Gloria wants to be “a voice for those who feel they have no voice.”
Marilyn Escoe became homeless with her four children after losing her job. Her family was moved into a shelter 16 miles from the children’s Chicago Public elementary school. Marilyn found a new part-time job, but her children struggled with a very-early long-distance morning commute to school. The Law Project helped Marilyn negotiate with school officials to provide transportation assistance for the children. A recent culinary school graduate, Marilyn works as an aide for a school bus company and at New Life Interim Housing in Rogers Park. She joined the CCH Board of Directors in September 2017.
Charles Jenkins has been active at CCH for more than 20 years, and is a founding member of the Speakers Bureau. He became involved during shelter outreach, buoyed by the realization that “good people are out there fighting for change.” After getting involved in an effort to create affordable housing, Charles was inspired to address his homelessness. A long-time community activist, Charles is a family man who enjoys challenging an audience to get involved in the fight to end homelessness.
Leeanna Majors learned a great deal from her experience with homelessness. As a prostitution survivor, low self-esteem was her greatest enemy. Her first step to recovery was learning to care for herself. She is motivated to talk about her life experience because she wants people to understand how we can come together and make change. Another founding member of the Speakers Bureau, Leeanna has seen that after people hear her story, see her face, and understand that hers is the face of many, they can believe in their ability to make a difference.
Cassie Sahler was 17 when she became an “unaccompanied youth” – homeless and on her own, without a parent or guardian, after the sudden death of her mother. Living near Joliet, Cassie couch-surfed with friends before moving to Chicago. She lived on the street before finding help from several youth and housing providers. Cassie was active with the Lakeview Action Coalition and a leader in CCH’s longtime HELLO youth group. Now a mother herself, Cassie is glad to be a part of the Speakers Bureau because connecting with people can change views on poverty and homelessness.
Dalmanic Ali Simmons was incarcerated at age 15. He pursued an education in prison so that he could start a new life after his release. Ali earned a General Equivalency Degree (GED), an associate degree in liberal arts from Lakeland Community College, and vocational certificates in custodial maintenance and diesel power technology. Released in 2014, Ali found janitorial work and accessed transitional housing and reentry services at St. Leonard’s Ministries. After he met a CCH organizer, Ali became a volunteer leader with the Reentry Project, advocating for programs that remove barriers after incarceration. Ali says he is inspired by “anything that’s going to improve conditions for everybody.” Since 2016, Ali has worked as a street outreach worker for the CCH Law Project.
Taishi Neuman is a mother of four who experienced homelessness on-and-off since her teen years. She worked as a certified nursing assistant, but has relied on a disability income after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A founding member of the CCH Education Committee, Taishi was a strong advocate for an updated policy guiding Chicago Public Schools’ treatment of homeless students. Her activism comes from her desire to dismantle stereotypes of homeless people.
Lynda Moree experienced homelessness for 30 years. After entering drug treatment at Haymarket Center, Lynda secured permanent housing in Lakeview. She is a core group leader on CCH’s Fight for $15 committee, planning advocacy events in Springfield. Lynda is passionate about helping homeless people find resources to recover from addiction.
Otelia Schwartz and her family doubled up with relatives for six years until she secured treatment for a mental illness. She later obtained housing through the Independence Center, a north suburban Waukegan organization working with mentally ill adults. Otelia also volunteers with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Otelia is working toward becoming a certified recovery support specialist and a wellness recovery action plan facilitator. Drawing from her children’s experience with homelessness, she advocates for students and to reduce the stigma of being homeless.
Chrishauna Thompson, 18, is a high school senior who coped with homelessness throughout her childhood. With her family, she has lived in shelters for those experiencing domestic violence and doubled-up in the overcrowded homes of relatives. Chrishauna has spoken to reporters about her personal experiences. She is committed to fighting for the recognition that people forced to double-up are homeless and need access to affordable housing.