Look Inside: David James and Town Hall Apartments

David James has been working in property management his whole life. His experience working in senior living and supportive housing developments have been a perfect avenue for one as compassionate and caring as David. Working for Heartland Alliance’s Town Hall Apartments has been a particularly special time for him, serving LGBTQ seniors at a time in their life when community is most important.

How did you get into this work?

When I moved to Chicago, I was living in Uptown. There are a lot of homeless individuals – and a lot of homeless seniors – in Uptown. I’ve been involved with the church for a long time, and spent a lot of time performing outreach with those individuals. I’ve also spent time running SROs and serving those who are housing insecure for a very long time.

Why is this work important to the community and those we serve?

Here at Town Hall apartments, we’re providing LGBTQ-friendly housing for aging seniors. Oftentimes, we see that when people in the community get older, they have to go back into the closet to adapt to the structure and – frankly – the prejudices of some living spaces catered to aging people.
The other part of supportive housing is the support part. We partner with Center on Halsted for our supportive services – and they provide case managers ready to provide services and support for our population. We have a very long wait list for our place, and there just aren’t enough places like Town Hall.

Was there a moment where you knew you were in the right job?

I came out three years ago. So I’m relatively new to the community, and I wanted to grow and thrive in a space that was gay friendly. I had spent a little bit of time around Heartland Alliance during my service years in Uptown, and I knew of their clinic and their services there on the north side. When I applied, I saw the need for a property manager right here in Boystown serving this population. This is the best job I’ve ever had, and these are the best residents I’ve ever had. It really felt like destiny right from the beginning.

What is your favorite part of your job?

That’s easy – the residents. I love hearing their stories and connecting with the people I work for. I’m a strong believer that all of us have a story – and listening is the most important part of connection. When you listen to others stories, you realize that we’re not that different. That’s community.

How can others get involved in your work?

Because this is LGBTQ friendly work, it’s important to stay in touch with the concerns and issues of those in the community. Especially in the current climate, there are a lot of challenges from the policy end. Check out Heartland Alliance’s policy work, follow the Human Rights Campaign or other LGBTQ advocacy groups, and be the change.

Helping Moms Heal, Grow, and Thrive

They say a mother’s work is never done. For a mom trying to raise a family without the security of a home, that phrase takes on even more meaning. For a mother trying to raise a child in a community ravaged by violence, the work truly never ends. For a survivor of gender-based violence, healing is a critical factor in her family’s wellbeing.

At Heartland Alliance, the services we provide don’t just help individuals, they help families – and ultimately develop stronger communities. See how we’re helping Moms heal, grow, and thrive.

Tree Lane: Building Family Through Housing

At the time that Elector was interviewed for this story, she was sitting on her own wrap-around couch in her own four-bedroom apartment. The kids were all at school, Elector was folding laundry and boiling some water for dinner that night. Once dinner was prepared and the interview was finished, the day’s work would only be starting for Elector. In just a couple of hours there would be homework at the kitchen table, and young ones to help guide into the future.

Elector has called Madison home since she was six years old. Her parents brought her family up from Arkansas back in the 70s, and ever since she’s always seen her hometown as a land of opportunity. She works hard to ensure that is the case for her children as well.

“I have four girls and one boy, and my son has money saved for Madison Area Technical College. He’s not even in 8th grade, and he already has a path toward his secondary education. There’s a lot of hope here.”

Here in Madison, Elector is confident that her children are receiving a quality education. A single mother of five, she spends most of her days making sure everyone is ready for the next day’s lessons. She’s reviewed countless essays, spent hours own worksheets, and written out reams of flash cards over the past decade.

To her, it’s all worth the effort. There’s a future in this town for her and her children, and she’s not leaving that opportunity for anything. Even when her family fell onto hard times and into homelessness five years ago, Elector held that hope for the future close to her heart.

“Everybody thinks that people want to live in a shelter for free. They think that we enjoy free heat, free food, and a free place to say. But trying to raise a family like that is not easy or free – it’s more work than you can imagine.”

For Elector’s kids, nightly homework sessions don’t stop if there isn’t a kitchen table to sit at. There’s still work to be done – and whether they were sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment or staying at a local shelter, Elector’s family was putting in the time. Work sheets and essays still had to be finished, no matter the circumstances.

“Raising your family while homeless means you can’t eat what you want or cook what you want. You have to be on someone else’s schedule, your kids have to constantly be protected. Waiting and hoping to see if you have a room for your family every night, trusting that your stuff will be taken care of when you step away, and making sure their ready for the next day, you’re in a messed up situation.”

So when Heartland Housing’s new Tree Lane Apartments were built on Madison’s west side, Elector was almost too busy to care. The new permanent supportive housing initiative was opening 45 new apartments for moms and families just like Electors, but she was far too concerned with her day to day struggle to pay attention.

“I remember the guys at Heartland had to bug me multiple times to come and see the place. I was still skeptical that one of these apartments could actually go to my family. I just thought we couldn’t actually have something like this.”

But just as the school year was about to ramp back up, the family moved into a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment. The in-unit washer-dryer and full-sized kitchen gives Elector the chance to get all of her mom responsibilities without worry. The kids have a hassle-free journey to school and back now that they aren’t in a shelter, and Elector gets to watch them walk to the bus from her window. Sometimes she’ll see them walking home from the same vantage point, and she knows it’s time to put on her homework cap.

“My kids absorb everything. The school system has been a good tool for them. Now, to have steady housing, steady school districts, and everyone in my family working as a team – it’s given us the opportunity to grow. Now I have people outside of my family that work as part of my team.”
Now, the school year is nearing the final quarter. The kids will soon have some time off, and their own rooms to enjoy for the first time in five years. It will be the first moment of respite for her and her children in half a decade.
“This place, my place, this gives me hope. I thought I would never have the chance to live in a place this beautiful. There was no way that I could afford this rent and take care of my kids at the same time. You guys gave us the best opportunity in Madison.”
For Elector and her family, hard work has paid off. Elector takes pride in the struggles she and her children survived, and she’s even happier to prove to her family that this city is the land of opportunity her parents thought it was.
“Now I get to tell my kids ‘see I told you something good was going to happen to us.’ I can tell them to never give up because good things do happen.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Tony B on Service, Giving, and Doing

History teacher, veteran, community advocate, philanthropist, Tony Busalacchi wears many hats. Now in his 80s, Tony is most proud of two monikers in particular: artist and volunteer.

“This work – and more importantly the outcomes – is most gratifying, and it’s very humbling. There’s a service organization called The Christophers, and they say that’s it’s better to light one little candle than to curse the dark. I felt that this was a situation where we could lite a little candle. We didn’t realize that so many other candles would be lit at the same time.”

Tony is referencing his most recent service project, a series of self-produced and curated art projects that he has since sold to raise funds for Heartland Housing’s most recent permanent supportive housing development, St. Anthony Place.

St. Anthony’s hospital was built in 1931 in downtown Milwaukee, and Tony was born there in 1933. Born and raised in the community, Tony and his wife Pat have been longtime supporters of homeless services providers in the area for years. When he heard that the old abandoned hospital was to be converted into housing for the homeless, Tony knew he wanted to help.

“I’m a Korean War veteran, and for 11 years I would volunteer at the VA hospital in town. I would meet men and women that were really down and out, from physical wounds or emotional wounds. I feel that this housing project provided a dignified way for people to live.”

A painter, sculptor, and curator, Tony had created and collected dozens of art pieces over the years. Tony and Pat decided to sell their prized possessions, with the money raised going to furnish the 60 new homes. The couple had hoped to raise three or four thousand dollars with the fundraiser – but the event quickly went viral, with buyers from around the globe participating. Before they knew it, the Busalacchis had raised over $40,000 for the residents of St. Anthony Place.

Tony and Pat’s service have continued since the fundraiser. At the grand opening for St. Anthony Place, the couple was proud to show off numerous art pieces throughout the new development. Hanging from the ceiling of the St. Anthony Place meditation room is a metal mobile, hand crafted by Tony himself to commemorate the struggle of those who have had to endure life on the streets.

“One has to be very careful about the circumstances of another individual. This is an outright gift to be a part of such a great moment, and we are just proud to have a chance to give back.”

Above and beyond their fundraiser, Tony and Pat continue to find ways to help the new residents of St. Anthony Place. Pat has been holding donation drives, collecting clothing, toiletries, diapers, and the like. For their birthdays, the couple has organized smaller fundraisers with their family and friends – and they don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. For Tony, none of the titles matter – it’s all about the action that counts.

“My personal hero is St Francis of Assisi. He gave a sermon not of words, but of action. To me, a hero is a do-er. Giving, first and foremost, is about doing. It’s about action.”

Heartland Housing: Providing A New Lease On Life

In the fight for equity and opportunity for all, housing is fundamental. Heartland Housing has been a dedicated preferred provider of affordable and permanent supportive housing for more than 30 years. Spanning Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee, the organization has developed more than 1,900 units that provide safety and stability for thousands of people. This month, Heartland Housing celebrated the official opening of its largest permanent supportive housing development in Milwaukee: St. Anthony Place.

The historic building located at 1004 N. 10th St. has lived many lives. It was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its place in Milwaukee’s history as the only hospital to serve African Americans in the 1930’s. “Our partnership in Milwaukee started right at the beginning of Milwaukee’s fight to end homelessness 12 years ago. St. Anthony Place marks our fourth – and largest – development in that fight,” said Michael Goldberg, Heartland Housing’s Executive Director “There’s really something special about this building, about its history, and about its future.”

Our rehabilitation created 60 modern apartments. Partnerships with local non-profit organizations; Capuchin Community Services, Ascension Wisconsin, and Justice Point, helps to ensure that those who have or are currently experiencing homelessness can access a daytime drop-in center, on-site healthcare, and useful employment services.

For the residents of St. Anthony Place, the new apartments are transformational. Mike, a resident,  was pleased to share his experience as a he stood alongside Mayor Barrett and county commissioner Abele during a public ceremony in March.

“Our apartments are wonderful. You can’t believe what it’s like to have an apartment after what we have all experienced.”

Heartland Housing exists  to ensure the fundamental component of housing is made accessible for individuals and families who need it most. The participants that we serve no longer have to wonder where they will lay their head at night, or whether they will have protection from harsh environments. Instead, residents like Mike can focus learning to thrive.

To all of the new residents of St. Anthony Place, welcome home.

Heartland Housing: Kandyse McCoy Cunningham

As the Director of Asset Management for Heartland Housing, Kandyse McCoy Cunningham oversees the compliance, physical, and financial performance of more than 700 units of affordable and supportive housing for low-income Chicagoans. Working in housing for 25 years, she continues to thrive in the field thanks to her team and the passion of building the life-changing foundation that is a home.

Kandyse McCoy Cunningham

What got you into this work?

I got into housing by accident. I needed a job, and a friend told me about property management. Eventually, I got into affordable housing and I really loved it. I’ve been in affordable housing management for 25 years.  Eventually, I was working for the state as an auditor – and one of my buildings was the Leland Apartments in Chicago. I remember falling in love with the place and actually being recommended to apply for the job – and here I am.

Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

I call affordable and supportive housing life-changing housing. This work is the perfect way to display compassion. Everyone deserves housing – and it should be decent, it should be safe, it should be clean. It doesn’t matter where you came from our what your life was like before, you deserve respect – and our housing programs really strive to do just that.

Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

I remember the first building we opened when I was on the job – Harvest Commons. I remember seeing the faces of the residents when they received their keys, and when they saw the amazing amenities of the building – you know, that building has an urban garden – and I remember these people just lighting up. I remember people thanking us and saying ‘you are building all of this for us’ – and that’s when I knew.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love leading and working with my team. I feed off of them and they feed off of me – and our teamwork really makes it all worth it.

How can others help your work?

People can help by simply knowing and understanding what it is that we’re trying to do, without preconceived notions. We spend a lot of time dispelling myths about affordable and supportive housing. Understanding homelessness better and supporting initiatives that end homelessness is the most important thing you can do to help.

Housing & Community Triumphs over Polar Vortex

For most of us, the polar vortex produced the coldest temperatures we had ever experienced. In the days leading up to the vortex, grocery stores were flooded with people in a panic to buy the necessities needed to carry them through the two and half days they would be holed up their homes to escape the unforgiving weather.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the brutal cold lasted a whole week. The residents of our Rethke Terrace apartments in Madison, all of whom are formerly homeless, know all too well the serious nature of extreme cold, and trying to survive without essential resources.

“My first night homeless was in January of 2015,” said Kathy, a resident of Rethke Terrace. “All I had was a tent in the woods, now that was some hard living.”

Rethke Terrace houses 60 formerly homeless Madisonians, many of them veterans. The apartments opened in 2016, and many of the residents are experiencing winter indoors for the first time in years because they had been chronically homeless.

According to the department of Housing and Urban Development, individuals with this designation have been homeless for more than a year and have multiple barriers to housing. Many of the residents are experiencing not only housing for the first time in years, but access to the critical supportive services that help them thrive. When the vortex fell upon Madison, many of the residents were unable to stock up at the grocery store. They were instead left with just the food they had received from a local pantry – and stocks were dwindling.

“Oh I was nervous, but our property manager Heidi [Rethke Terrace property manager] was on the ball. She was coming door to door, making sure we had everything we need,” said Randy, an army vet who served for 10 years and die-hard Packer fan. “The community kitchen had some extra potatoes and things lying around, and we aren’t afraid to work with our neighbors when things got tight.”

Randy and Kathy share a bit of celebrity at Rethke Terrace, as they are considered some of the best chefs in the building. More importantly, they love to share their creations.

“I love to cook, I love to bake. I’m making food for everyone on the floor all the time. Lasagna, cookies, you name it,” Randy said.

A day into the freeze, Kathy and Randy realized the extended duration indoors would quickly empty their refrigerators – and that their neighbors were facing a similar situation.

“I grew up in a large family, so I know how to share,” Kathy said. “I had potatoes and onions, one fella had some ground beef, one person had peppers. We were going to make it work.”

Kathy, Randy and at least two of their neighbors – longtime Madison resident Tom and fellow Army vet Alex – joined forces to make it through.

“You know, we made it all work! I gave the last of my hamburger meat and we made some sort of goulash with it,” Tom said.

Goulash, lasagna, a couple of different stews – crockpots were working overtime on the second and third floors of Rethke Terrace. Soon, the whole group was sharing food with one another – and ultimately making sure that none of their neighbors would go hungry before Madison thawed out.

“It all started in the community room. Randy started bringing food down there when he had too much leftover. I would just regularly knock on my neighbor’s doors seeing if they were hungry. We’ve got a good community here – nobody will be going hungry on our watch,” Randy said.

For Alex, his compassion compelled him to do more than just share food. He went out of his way to check on a friend who wasn’t housed and to make sure he had what he needed to make it through those bitter cold days.

“I have a friend who is older and in the same situation that I used to be in, and I know what this winter must be like. When news came about the cold snap, I just thought about how the next few days would be for him. I put myself back in my old shoes, so to speak. There’s still folks out there. We’re the lucky ones.”

Heidi Holden, Rethke Terrace Property Manager, couldn’t be more proud of the budding community in her building.

“This place is home, and everyone here KNOWS that its home. We decorate for holidays, we carve pumpkins, we have a chili cook off next week. We celebrate birthdays, we do it all.”

With 11 years of experience in property management, this is Heidi’s first time working in permanent supportive housing. The residents of Rethke Terrace get to stay here for as long as they can, so long as they can adhere to the building’s rules and their health allows them. Serving the formerly homeless has been quite the experience for her – enlightening in some very positive ways.

“You would think people would want to be alone after all they’ve been through, but it’s the opposite. People crave other people.”

Black History Month Reflections: Mary Church Terrell

At Heartland Alliance, we believe that everyone has the right to prosper and reach their full potential. As we continue to bend the arc of time toward justice, it is important to stop and reflect on the trials and tribulations of racial injustices – and to celebrate the leaders who have become symbols for equity and opportunity for ALL people. For Black History Month, leaders from across Heartland Alliance reflected on heroes from the community that inspire them.

As the Director of Asset Management for Heartland Housing, Kandyse McCoy Cunningham oversees the compliance, physical, and financial performance of more than 700 units of affordable and supportive housing for low-income Chicagoans. She chose to reflect on Mary Church Terrell, national activist for civil rights and suffrage and one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree.

Why did you choose this person?

Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African American women to get a college degree. Education is integral in my family. I’m one generation out of public housing. My grandparents and parents always said that education was the component that gets you forward. My mom would say “you have to be better than me” and her mom told her. I used that as a bench mark.

She helped found the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in 1913 – and the sorority’s first public act was participating in one of the largest Women’s Suffrage Marches of the time. As a member of Delta Sigma Theta, Terrell’s achievements are very personal to me.

How do they inspire the work you do today?

Mary Church Terrell was instrumental in organizing black women to march in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She encouraged the ladies to be more than just a social club, but to be activists. Even though the women of Delta Sigma Theta had to march back of the line and endure the added negativity due to their race, they still marched. It made my sorority more than just a social club. I’m still active in that sorority – we are still activists, and we are very dedicated to community service.

We have a housing first philosophy. Housing is the foundation, but I believe – given how I was raised and how I got here – that education is just as fundamental to success. At Heartland Housing, the residents we serve don’t just stop growing with their housing – they take next steps to build their lives. For example, we house formerly homeless families – mostly single moms and their kids – at our Tree Lane apartments in Madison. When I begin to connect with those women, I’ll have a conversation with them along the lines of “now your housed, now what? What’s your next step to get to point A to point B?”

What do you think it will take to get to the future that Mary Church Terrell fought for?

It’s going to take honest conversation, regardless of if it’s unconformable. We need to achieve the truth. The only way to get better as a society is by really understanding each other. This doesn’t have to be politics, but it does have to be connection. No matter how uncomfortable it is.

I believe that to a certain degree, there is already a lot of opportunity – Mary Church Terrell blazed a path for young black women in civil society and in education. We have to follow her lead, and go down some hard paths in order to build even better opportunities for the next generation.

At the same time, there are systemic issues that we absolutely must address. Systemic racism is not as overt, which can be even more dangerous. It can be lost that there is actually a problem, and we have to keep this in our conversations.

You’ve Got to Give Back: Tom’s Story

“When I was at my lowest, there were people – complete strangers – that believed in me. They really went to bat for me. I was, literally, the luckiest man in the world.”

Sometimes, perspective is everything. For Tom Church, living on the streets of Milwaukee changed not only how he sees homelessness – it changed his belief in people and service. Today, his happiest holiday moments happen when he brings his friends and family together to buy presents for low-income families through our Stuff a Stocking campaign.

Before homelessness, Tom’s life as a division manager for a sales department seemed unshakable. He was successful, independent, and at the top of his game. But just as is it with most of us, one or two speed bumps down can send you careening off what you thought was your path to happiness. For Tom, that speed bump involved addiction. Soon enough, Tom’s habits lost him his job, his home, and most of his relationships.

“It was miserable. I had the toughest time trying to find cash around the city to get loaded and find an empty place to sleep in winter.”

After a number of years on the streets, Tom did find hope – but he needed a little help. A number of social services throughout Milwaukee – including Heartland Alliance – that helped him find sobriety, healthcare, even a home. Tom recognized just how crucial it was for strangers to care about him – a concept that was solidified in his mind after a heart attack that left him clinically dead for almost an hour.

“If it weren’t for these people, I wouldn’t be here today. In every sense of the word, I have owe my life to people who didn’t give up on me.”

And so today, with a home and a future ahead of him, Tom is giving back. Tom is working with his friends and family to donate gifts and stuff stockings to two families at our Maskani Place housing program in Milwaukee.

“Ever since I got back on my own, I knew I had to give back. I’ve got a couple of extra bucks, and I know what it’s like when you have nothing. You’ve got to give back.”