Yvonne Heller and her husband, Henry, thought they had tried everything. Their South Florida real estate business had failed, her husband had lost his job at a Fortune 500 company, and their house and all their investment properties had been foreclosed on.
They came to Naperville in 2009 that same year hoping to recover, thinking jobs here were more plentiful. Heller, 44, was from the area. But when her husband still hadn’t found a job a year into a two-year lease on a house, they completely ran out of money.
With their savings depleted, they were forced to walk away from the home they were renting. And with nowhere to go on the date of the eviction, in the last hour, they left behind everything they owned.
Their life began to turn around when Yvonne finally decided to speak out about their situation.
While Henry, 49, sank into a deep depression because he couldn’t find a job, she couldn’t stay silent anymore. They had continually told people they were fine, but without anywhere to go, she knew the pretending was over.
“It took a lot of courage to be vulnerable,” she said.
Only after opening up did people tell her about available resources. They eventually found Bridge Communities. In July, they graduated from the program and have since moved back to Naperville.
In those four years, they lived in a cramped apartment in Glendale Heights, re-evaluating how they ended up homeless and broke. Mentors from Bridge taught them how to budget, found their kids (ages 7, 8 and 9) winter coats, and provided consistent emotional support for the family.
Heller went back to work for the first time in nine years in January, and her husband found what she called an “amazing” job in September. While she works in operations for an industry supply company, he is a territory sales rep for a water technology company.
“Crazy to think two years ago we were homeless,” she said. “We had nothing, and now we have two great jobs.”
As a former client of Bridge Communities, the Heller family will be among the about 2,000 people who will participate in the 10th annual Sleep Out Saturday on Nov. 2. The annual event raises funds and awareness for the homelessness.
Chris Chenoworth, a youth leader at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will accompany a group of about 50 teens and their families from the religious community sleeping in the parking lot of the church that night.
“The teens get the reality of homelessness,” he said. “The reality is that (after the event) they get a shower and a meal. Other kids their age don’t have a home, shower or meal on the table.”
About 1,287 homeless students attended DuPage County schools in the 2012-2013 school year.
At Benedictine University, Johanne Jeudy, 21, of Haiti, and Kelsey Barrera, 18, whose family is from the Philippines, have been organizing students on campus for Sleep Out Saturday.
Homelessness in the United States has been a surprise for both college students though.
“In Haiti we always heard about the United States, but we never heard about homeless people,” Jeudy said.
A mission trip to St. Louis during the four years since she moved here opened her eyes to the reality that some people in the U.S. live in worse conditions than those in Haiti.
For Barrera, what struck her is that kids whose lives should focus on school instead don’t have homes.
“No one thinks that in suburban areas people have to think about how to put food on the table,” Barrera said.
No one expects to be homeless, but without speaking out, it’s hard to help them. Heller knows this better than anyone.
“We look like the traditional suburban family,” she said. “Like the family in sample pictures in frames in a store. Not the poster family for getting food stamps.”