Marilyn Escoe’s journey from crisis to strength

IMG_5984CCH offers broad outreach at shelters, housing and street programs that serve homeless families, teens and single adults.

Our work reaches families like Marilyn and her children. They lived in their North Lawndale apartment for six years, happy to be living half a block from the children’s grade school.

But when Marilyn lost her job in 2011, the Escoe family soon lost their two-bedroom apartment. Marilyn sought help from Chicago’s “311” homeless assistance call center, managed by Catholic Charities. The family was placed in available beds in a shelter 16 miles away, in the Rogers Park neighborhood. 

Being homeless for the first time turned life upside down, but the family coped and kept going. Over the coming months, Marilyn, 36, found a new, part-time job, took training to qualify for a full-time security job, and the children continued in their same school.

Last summer, Marilyn decided to join CCH outreach efforts that help other students whose families are homeless.

“I do it because I can get strength from other people who are struggling, because I didn’t know these things myself, and it’s good for my children to see that other people go through things. And just because we’re temporarily housed, you can still get a good education and know your rights,” she explained.

Marilyn first got involved with CCH as a beneficiary of its outreach. Mary Baker, a Speakers Bureau leader at CCH, works at Good News Partners’ New Life Interim Housing, where Marilyn’s family lives. Mary arranged for organizer J.D. Klippenstein to run outreach on the educational rights of homeless children and teens.

During that June session, Marilyn related that her children had to get up before 5 a.m. to catch two trains to school. Marilyn also worried because with a new job as a school bus aide, she could no longer accompany the children back and forth to school.

Reluctantly, Marilyn was considering transferring her children to a new school. J.D. encouraged Marilyn to ask the CCH Law Project for help in talking with school officials about providing bus service, which must be made available by CPS in hardship cases. Bus service began last fall, allowing the children an extra hour of sleep before they’re picked up promptly at 6:22 a.m.

Working with CCH got Marilyn interested in joining its new Education Committee, organized to mobilize outreach by parents, students, and educators.  The committee meets every six weeks, and Marilyn and her children are always there. In fact, it wasn’t long before Marilyn’s oldest, Kaleyah, 14, decided to join.

“J.D. told me I could sit in,” she explained. “I was sitting in the back. I liked the discussion on homeless education. So next time, I moved to the table and I spoke about how I’m a homeless student and how I try not to let it affect me.”

Marilyn and Kaleyah took their first trip to Springfield in early April, when CCH brought 125 parents, youth and service providers to talk to legislators about funding programs for homeless students and youth. “In social studies class, they always talk about Springfield, so I wanted to see it with my own eyes,” Kaleyah said.

POSTSCRIPT: Marilyn’s family is profiled in our spring appeal. To thank supporters who give a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more, CCH will send an author-signed copy of Blue Balliett’s new children’s book, Hold Fast. Written by the best-selling author of Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 and The Calder Game, Hold Fast is a mystery centered on an 11-year-old girl and her family living in a Chicago shelter.

– Photos by Betsy Neely

– Story by Anne Bowhay