Honoring our Humanitarians

From people with disabilities to the elderly; from migrants to journalists; all people caught in conflict, facing hunger, or being discriminated against deserve access to equity and opportunity. This World Humanitarian Day, we recognize our friends who stand with the most vulnerable around the globe by sharing their thoughts and concerns about the daily fight against injustice.

Dr. Zaher Sahloul


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.”

Poverty Awareness Month

January is Poverty Awareness Month, a month-long initiative to raise awareness and call attention to the growth of poverty in America. For 130 years we’ve been fighting to end poverty by creating equity and opportunity. This entire month, we’ve been talking about how and why poverty continues to impact so many of us around the globe.

From housing and healthcare, to education and opportunity – Heartland Alliance’s pillars of focus are how we help individuals achieve success – they’re also constantly under attack by inequity.


Housing is fundamental to exiting poverty. Without the safety, stability, and comfort of a home, achieving other markers of success – through education, employment, and wealth building – is much more difficult. In 2015, 38 percent of all “renter households” were rent burdened – and 17 percent of renter households that are severely rent burdened—spending 50 percent or more of monthly income on rent.

There are housing components in each of our five companies, providing either emergency, transitional, or permanent supportive housing to individuals as a foundational part of their success. For Heartland Housing residents Geraldine and her daughter Pryesha, the safety and stability of their Milwaukee apartment have led to very real successes – hear their story.


Poverty is increasingly linked to disparities in life expectancy. Low-income Americans have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions, compared to higher-income Americans. Further, poor health also contributes to reduced income, creating a cycle often referred to as the health-poverty trap.

Heartland Alliance Health has been providing healthcare access to some of Chicago’s hardest to reach populations for over three decades. Most recently, our new south side health center has helped us serve hundreds more in the Englewood neighborhood. See how this has impacted families.


Nearly 70 percent of adults having less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, and almost a third of all Americans without any savings at all. Ending poverty will require that individuals have the capacity to build real wealth, and not just live paycheck to paycheck.

Our Asset Building program connects individuals to resources and education that many today never receive – learning how to build and maintain savings and wealth. See how some of our most recent Asset Building graduates feel about their financial futures in this piece.


Poverty can impact the ability to obtain employment – but it can also force people to stay in jobs where they are unsafe, mistreated or take advantage of.

When individuals don’t have access to employment that is fair and based in human rights, they can fall further into poverty. Income from work improves access to the necessities of life – and we must work to create a society where no one has to choose between their dignity or their paycheck. See Isabel’s story to learn more about how fair treatment in the workplace is a crucial part of ending and keeping people out poverty.


Violence and poverty often flourish under the same circumstances, including lack of access to jobs, inadequate investment in public services, poor health conditions, lack of educational opportunities, and more.

Poor households nationwide experience violence at the highest rates, regardless of whether they’re in urban, suburban, or rural areas. Addressing poverty is a key part of ending violence. By bettering underlying quality of life conditions— we can ensure that every person has an adequate standard of living, free from poverty and violence.

Read Tevin’s story to see the impact of second chances. His experience shows that when we give people real opportunity when they return from incarceration, they can not only rebuild their own lives but bring hope to communities.


There are 4.1 million adults in Illinois alone who have a criminal record. In the US there are an estimated 50,000 collateral consequences for those who have been justice involved – meaning they have been restricted from housing, employment, education and other opportunities that help lift individuals out of poverty.

About 30,000 people leave Illinois prisons every year, and nearly half of them return within three years. Making it easier for ex-offenders to work by removing these collateral consequences, would reduce recidivism and increase equity and opportunity. We ALL deserve the opportunity to provide for ourselves and obtain opportunity. For years, as a member of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), Heartland Alliance’s Policy team has been working closely with anti poverty agencies across the state to increase opportunity for ex-offenders by allowing them better access to education and jobs.

Our policy team’s Quentin Williams has been leading the charge to help those living post-incarceration find real justice – through hope and opportunity. See his ideas in this Spotlight on Poverty piece.

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.”

Gerard Campbell of Heartland Housing

Gerard Campbell has been working as our Wisconsin Property Manager for Heartland Housing for half a decade now. He believes in the transformational power of a home, and has dedicated his life to ensuring that for others.

1. What got you into this work?

I’ve been driven to help people who are vulnerable housed for a very long time now. When I was 9 or 10 years old, we lived in a divided community in Ireland. I was one of a few families in my hometown that was burned out of our homes because of our beliefs. We were forced out of town, and we were left homeless for some time. Ever since, I’ve been determined to live and work for social justice.

I used to work for an agency that had been working with and learning from Heartland Alliance. There was a whole delegation of nonprofit officials and government leaders who were trying to find solutions for a growing problem in our city – homelessness and mental health issues. We came down to Chicago looking to develop some new programs to help individuals experiencing homelessness, and Heartland Alliance inspired all of us. They’re permanent supportive housing models provided opportunities for people to grow and find self-sufficiency.  A few years later, when it was time to start looking to broaden my horizons, I came directly here.

2. Why is this work important to the community, and to the people we serve?

There’s just such a high need in Madison and Milwaukee for affordable housing. The cost of living is high and rising, and I think there’s an ongoing struggle for folks living week to week and month to month.There’s just not as much opportunity to live in an affordable place. That roof over your head provides so much more than just shelter – it provides opportunity, safety, and a better outlook on life.

In the long run, the housing we develop creates so much more for the entire community. It creates hope.

3. Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you?

We were serving a family – a mom and her young kids – that had fled a violent domestic situation. I remember they had been staying from hotel to hotel for some time, which is a very unstable way to grow up. We ended up finding a unit that worked well for them at one of our Milwaukee sites, and I remember one of the little ones saying, “Mom, I know it’s not a hotel, but I think we should make this place our next home.”

Those children had spent so much time living sporadically that it seemed normal to them. The mom went on to find work and become independent, and they ended up finding some real stability. That’s what permanent housing should be.

4. What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy handing off the keys. I’ve been with Heartland Housing for five years now, and I still get so excited when I get to hand over the keys to a newly housed person or family. I know how important it is for these folks, to have a chance to call a place home. With all of the hours I put in, all of the hard work that comes with the job – this is what it’s all about.

5. How can others help your work?

It really does take a village. If we aren’t in this together and pulling in the same direction, we aren’t going to be successful. Supportive housing is really just one part of the puzzle to end poverty and provide stability. All community members are needed to make this successful.

Celebrating Success at Maskani Apartments

Housing is fundamental to the growth of individuals, families, and communities. A stable roof over one’s head helps develop a sense of opportunity, safety, and comfort that is necessary to build a life of independence and success. In Milwaukee, Heartland Housing’s Maskani Place has been supporting participants for several years.

For Maskani Place residents Geraldine and her daughter Pryesha that sense of safety and opportunity have led to very real successes. Despite living homeless for years, Pryesha was able to graduate high school one year early.

“She’s going to go far, I know it. We’ve gone through so much and have overcome so much, and she’s still been able to reach her goals.”

Geraldine and her family know a thing or two about overcoming obstacles. For years, Geraldine and her children struggled to find affordable housing. The family grew up in Chicago, living in various neighborhoods in the city’s  west, south, and north sides. During this time, Geraldine worked selling auto parts and cashiering at convenience stores.

“I did it all because I had to. There was nobody else there for me. It was hard raising my kids, but I made it happen.”

With no real support structure, Geraldine raised her children, paid the rent, and put dinner on the table – all on her own. After years of struggling to make ends meet, the opportunity to build a new life emerged when a friend invited the family to move into an open apartment in Milwaukee. Geraldine and her kids jumped at the chance. While the family had even fewer connections in a new city, the chance to start fresh was too good to pass up.

But in just a few short months, the opportunity seemed to dissipate. Geraldine was having a hard time finding work and the friends that provided the apartment were ready to part ways.

All of a sudden, Geraldine and her children were without a home in an unfamiliar city.

And they made it work for years – first at an overnight emergency shelter, and then in transitional housing. Enduring the day–to-day of shelter life wasn’t easy, especially for a mom and her children. The rooms for families had to be shared, and the crowded space wasn’t favorable for things like homework and play.

“It was frustrating, no privacy. The shelters were ready to put you out at any moment’s notice. My kids are respectful; they aren’t going to clown, so we made it work.”

Pryesha remembers life in the shelter system vividly. She remembers the difficulties, the frustrations, the fears brought upon by not having a place to call home. When Heartland Housing’s Maskani Place invited them to move into a new permanent supportive housing unit, Pryesha hoped to move in as soon as they signed the paperwork.

Just a few days later, that day finally came. Geraldine remembers it all fondly.

“Everything came in when the time was right. Heartland gave us beds right when we moved in  and over time, all of the furniture arrived making us feel at home again.”

After spending years feeling out of place, the warmth of Maskani Place was a welcome experience.


“It was so beautiful, so welcoming. I knew this was a good thing when I got here. The people here give us good advice and help us with whatever we need.”

Pryesha’s new home couldn’t have come at a more critical moment. The ambitious young woman was entering high school, and the newfound security of her own room supported a smooth transition. Pryesha is a natural when it comes to her studies, and she enjoys most of her subjects , which made it easy to take on extra coursework and summer school to achieve early graduation.

“Math, English, I like it all. If I had to choose, I would say I enjoy writing the most. I like to consider myself a writer.”

Nothing could keep Pryesha from her goals. Difficult homework, bad weather, school drama – none of it slowed her down. Where most students found barriers, Pryesha wouldn’t flinch. Where most students found an easy way out of an assignment, Pryesha would tackle it head on. To her, there was only the ultimate goal.

Even through crisis and health concerns, the young woman found perseverance. Pryesha was in the middle of her junior year when she was struck by a car, breaking her arm and giving her a serious concussion. The school, her doctors, and her mother all wanted her to slow down and let her body heal, but all she could think about was her goal.

“Despite being hit by a car, I was so determined. I was still so focused on doing better in school and getting to where I wanted to be.”

Pryesha found the inspiration needed to power through by leaning into her mother’s courage. Geraldine suffers from arthritis, back issues, and depression – but through it all, she was able to find security for her and her children.

“When we were without a home, it was so hard for my mom to focus on her health. She had to focus on us, and getting us off the street. I wasn’t going to slow down. No way.”

Graduation was a monumental day for the Maskani residents. With Pryesha graduating a year ahead of schedule, Geraldine feels both proud and hopeful in the fact that her child’s success has placed her on a path toward security. Pryesha sees herself majoring in IT and minoring in business, with the hopes of one day building her own company and working for herself. She has enrolled in Milwaukee Area Technical College to keep costs down and, then will transfer to the University of Wisconsin Madison next year.

The next chapter for Geraldine and Pryesha is bright. We’re confident that Pryesha and Geraldine will be ready for just about whatever comes their way, and we’ll be ready to help every step of the way.

“Being here, with Heartland Alliance, is so comforting. When you feel like nobody loves you or wants to see you make it, they are here for you.”

Finding Solutions to Youth Homelessness

Youth have been among the hardest hit by the recent economic downturn, which has left them struggling for employment, housing and safety. Our Neon Street Dorms help  youth experiencing homelessness get back on their feet, not only with a roof over their heads, but with support in finding employment and completing their education.

We’re also working on the state and national levels, advocating for funding for youth programs and providing training around employment and housing for teens.



Jerrod’s story: https://heartlandalliance.exposure.co/jerrod