This Year's "A Taste of Evanston," Lighthouse Rotary Club Tackles homelessness.

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

When: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, July 14 (rain or shine)

Where: On the east lawn of the magnificent Charles Gates Dawes House, home of the Evanston History Center.

What: A Taste of Evanston features delicious appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts from 40 of Evanston's trendiest restaurants, local breweries and wine shops.

Tickets: Limited to first 500 guests. Purchase them here.

Benefits: Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corporation.

Evanston prides itself on its compassion, diversity and depth of services to help those in need. Yet, while efforts have been underway to address housing insecurity, things are only getting worse.

-- Did you know that 28 percent of Evanston’s population pays more than 30 percent of their income on housing?

-- The vast majority of those households are very low-income (30 percent to 50 percent of the average median income) and extremely low-income (under 30 percent of average median income).

-- Housing solutions that are focused on households at 100 percent and 80 percent of the Area Median Income do NOT meet the real need.

-- We need more housing that is affordable for households that are earning less that $40,000 a year, and the critical need for affordable housing in Evanston has grown. Reba Place Development Corp. estimates that 6,000 affordable housing units are currently needed in Evanston!

-- Many of the families affected by the lack of affordable housing contribute to the diversity of our community. A large percentage of those with rent burden are African American or Latinx.

-- Evanston's Black population has seen the largest impact of displacement, with population totals decreasing from 22.5 percent of the local population to just 16.6 percent, based on 2016 data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning( CMAP).

-- What are the options for those who are rent burdened?

They can move out of Evanston to a less expensive community; become homeless; or stay in a place they cannot afford and do without other necessities.

-- Affordable housing is key to:

Maintaining the diversity that Evanston claims it values; relieving the stress caused in the community by rent-burden; increasing the effectiveness of the many social services programs that are working to decrease youth violence, the achievement gap, domestic violence, family stress, and poverty.

Last Sunday, I sat down in a beautiful Reba Place affordable-housing unit--a two-bedroom that rents for $900/month--with award-winning Chicago Sun-Times urban affairs reporter and Evanston resident Maudlyne Ihejirika to talk about why she agreed to serve as emcee for this year's Taste of Evanston.

Here's that interview.

DE: Why did you agree to emcee this event? Why's it important to you?

MI: Well, first of all, I’d like to invite all of your viewers to please come out on July 14 to the Taste of Evanston. You will not be disappointed. Oh my gosh, I ate my way through it last year. And it is for such a good cause.

So, why am I doing this? It’s because of the cause. You know, homelessness is one of the most intrinsic problems we face as a nation. And Evanston is not immune. There was a time when you could go downtown and see very few homeless people. Today, as you traverse through Evanston, you will see homeless people. You see them panhandling, you see them sitting on the street. You see them looking for resources. You see them lined up at the food kitchens at the various churches offer. You see the lines going around the block.

You know Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corporation are doing such critical work. We need more groups like them.

And so, the reason I am doing this, is because I’m committed to the work that they’re doing. I’m committed to helping those less fortunate. There but for the grace of God go I. That is the way I was raised. That is what I believe. And that is what I hope all of your viewers will understand.

DE: And by coming to the Taste of Evanston how are they going to be helping?

MI: Well, you’re going to first of all enjoy yourself. And you’re going to get to taste so many delectable offerings from restaurants and retailers throughout Evanston who have come together for this most amazing cause. You can like me, start with dessert and then work your way to the main course. Or you can, like a more sane person, work your way from the main course through dessert. But we have everything.

How do you help? You buy your ticket! Come out on a gorgeous summer day. Mingle with your fellow Evanstonians and that’s what community is all about, right? So, you get most of the benefit and then those who need, those who are less advantaged than we, they get the help from your ticket sales.

DE: So, 28% of Evanstonians pay more than 30% of their income on housing.

MI: Yes.

DE: And most of the people who live in Evanston who pay that much are either low-income or very-low-income. So how do we get the political will in Evanston to change that? To allow them to have housing?

MI: You know I think that most of the time it ultimately comes down to education. People are afraid of what they don’t know.

So, people don’t understand that there are people who perhaps live right next door to them who are struggling to make the rent. Who are struggling to make decisions between covering their rent and buying clothing for their children or medicine for the elderly, right? Or food or recreation for the children and the family.

When people don’t understand that this is your neighbor who comes out of the same apartment building you do every day, waves hi to you, smiles. You both go your separate way. You go to work without a care, perhaps. They go to work and try to figure out how they’re going to buy their kids this ... how they’re going to pay for the medicine that needs a refill tomorrow ... how they’re going to pay that light bill before it gets turned off.

And all of the things that this causes, the stress, the pressure. You know, all of this plays into many of the social issues that we’re dealing with. It plays into domestic violence. It plays into child abuse. It plays into violence in general, youth violence, right?

When we as Evanstonians understand that we’re not talking about some unknown. We’re talking about our neighbor. When we understand that, I think that we begin to understand that affordable housing is not a dirty word. It is not a dirty word.

You know it reminds me there have been several cases in Evanston. I’ve been here for over 25 years. And there’ve been several cases over the years that I remember groups were planning affordable housing developments. You know, just an apartment building here, or a purchasing a house here, turning it into two or three apartments. And there was always, always 'Not In My Back Yard.' That NIMBY concept, right?

But guess what? Twenty-five years later all of those came to be and nothing happened. It was not the end of the world. People moved in and they made a life for themselves and they contributed their rich diversity to the rich fabric of Evanston. And that is what it boils down to.

DE: In Evanston housing security and homelessness affects the black community and the Latinx community more than anybody else.