50th Anniversary and April 2016 eNewsletter

We have some things to celebrate in this month’s eNewsletter (though not the weather!).  LAF turns 50 this year – and we salute all the people who’ve worked here in that time frame, and all the clients we’ve served, and all the supporters who’ve kept us afloat.
One of those clients achieved a great victory this month, which will benefit her and her family.  But it will also change the way a local housing authority deals with women who are the targets of domestic violence.
And we are encouraged that MacArthur Genius Award Winner Matthew Desmond has opened people’s eyes to one of the biggest problems poor people face:  eviction and what it does to communities.  Eviction happens because people living in poverty face the impossible task of juggling to pay their rent, put food on the table, keep the lights on, or have heat.  So it starts with poverty, and the no-win choices poverty imposes.  But once a family is evicted, it is driven even deeper into poverty by having to move into worse housing, living with more stress and illness, and often enduring job loss.  Children bounce from school to school until they drop out.  And homelessness is often the end result.   At LAF, we try to stop this cycle every day.  But Professor Desmond’s book, Evicted, has people talking about housing policy in a whole new way.
If only the State of Illinois had a budget, we would be full of hope and enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t – we are now at the end of month 10 of the current budget impasse, and there is no end in sight.  For LAF, no state budget means that, from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, we will not be paid for almost $1 million in work the State has given us contracts to provide.  Our reserves fell by more than $800,000 in 2015.  The LAF Board will spend another $300,000 of our reserves in 2016 to help with an anticipated $620,000 deficit this year.  We are currently working hard to identify savings to fill the rest of the hole.
As much as LAF has been hurt by the budget situation, many of our partners in the social service sector have been hurt much worse.  According to a recent United Way survey, 88% of respondents in Chicagoland have cut the number of clients they serve or eliminated whole programs.  Almost half of them have tapped into their cash reserves.  Nearly a third have laid off staff, and 5% have had to skip payrolls.   And, of course, the clients we all serve have been hit the hardest of all.
The next 50 years at LAF are starting off with big challenges!  Read about them and much more in our latest eNewsletter!

Miguel’s Wellstone Award

Miguel - Wellstone AwardWe are proud to congratulate the Director of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, Miguel Keberlein, who recieved the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award in a ceremony last night.  It was awarded by the Freedom Network, a national alliance of advocates working with survivors of human trafficking.   The award is named in honor of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both champions of human rights and justice. The Wellstone Award recognizes individuals and agencies that have made a unique or outstanding contribution to combating human trafficking and slavery in the United States.  Miguel received the award for his advocacy on behalf of migrant seasonal farm workers, who are often victims of human trafficking.  An excerpt of his moving acceptance speech follows:
Miguel - Wellstone Award 2“We all come to this work for different reasons and from different backgrounds.  For myself, I spent much of my youth growing up in my mother’s home country of Guatemala in a very remote village during the height of the civil war.  War is not kind and the atrocities one witnesses can easily shake one’s belief in mankind.  But there are always lessons to be learned and much good can come from the darkest of moments, something I am always reminded of when I work with our clients.  My father has always considered Don Quixote as his hero and I’ve received the book as a gift from him on several occasions throughout my life.  I look back now and I know why.  In the face of reality in a world that too often tells us we can’t, sometimes we are required to forge ahead by seeing the world for all that it can be.  I believe in a world the way Paul and Sheila Wellstone saw it, the way my father sees it, and indeed the way Don Quixote sees it.  Together we can create a world where respecting human dignity is the cornerstone of our society, and where human trafficking is something of the past.”

Congratulations, Miguel!