Last summer, Mae Whiteside did something that’s highly unusual in the world of non-profits.
"I picked up the phone and called to see if Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing had any openings for board members" she shares. "I needed to get back involved in this fight, because being homeless shaped me into who I am today."
Whiteside's childhood homes included tiny kitchenette studios, rooms with no heat, acquaintances' couches, and even homeless shelters. Her family's journey through homelessness began in 1985 when Mae's older sister turned 18 and financial support for her ended. Mae's mother tried but couldn't get their household income adjusted with the Chicago Housing Authority.
"She met with many pro bono and legal service providers – they couldn’t help, didn’t care," Mae says.
Eventually Mae's mother was able to access services similar to LCBH's today to stabilize the family. Even so, they lived wherever rent was cheapest, moving often and going without most basics, including phone service. That impacted her mom's ability to find work, because potential employers had no way to contact her. This long period of housing instability led to chronic unemployment for her mother, as being away from the job market perpetuated her difficulties finding work. As soon as Mae was old enough, she was able to start working and contribute to the household finances. By the time she was 18, Mae was working full-time and became the family's breadwinner.
"I missed a lot stuff with friends, a lot of youth activities," shares Mae.
Today Mae serves as President and CEO of CKL, a Chicago-based engineering consulting firm, and enjoys the stability she missed in her childhood. Still, she laments how little has changed in the cycle of homelessness for Chicago families. The system continues to favor landlords, even those who are slumlords, providing them with multiple advantages over tenants.
"Joining LCBH's board was important to me, to go back to the roots and see how I could help shape efforts and policy. I'm a walking data point. I am the people who LCBH goes to court with and represents," she says.
Mae is particularly supportive of LCBH's Chicago Evictions data portal and increasing funding for the research needed to create the cause platform.
"That’s where the solutions lie," says Mae. "We need to continue combing through and sorting out the data, because it makes clear cases for ordinance changes and legislation that will truly help end this vicious cycle."
LCBH is grateful to have Mae’s voice and advocacy inform our efforts. Interested in joining Mae as a director? Contact Mark Swartz, LCBH's Executive Director, for more information. Or donate now to support LCBH's efforts to bring justice to Chicago renters.