DuPage County Homelessness and Its Link To COD

Most recent estimates place over 50,000 people below the poverty line in DuPage County, while issues like high housing costs and overcrowding affect more than 100,000.


Nick Karmia

A Red Roof Inn repurposed into an Interim Housing Center by DuPagePads, located in Downers Grove, Ill.

Nick Karmia, Staff Writer

James Lamoureux called it quits on his home in Ohio when his family’s addiction and mental health issues became too much. His aunt picked him up and drove him back to Illinois to move in with her, but even that environment failed to turn out much better. 

“Sometimes my aunt will let me stay for a day or two, but the past five months I’ve been officially homeless or unhoused,” Lamoureux said. “I’ve been having anxiety issues. My grades are doing very bad. A lot of my friendships are falling through.” 

As a COD student, Lamoureux’s motivation keeps dwindling as issues like not having a permanent residence or stable internet connection affects his daily life.

“I’ve been dealing with a lot alone, so it definitely is difficult to be vulnerable. It’s hard to work on progressing, and I’m at the end of my ropes,” Lamoureux said.  

Lamoureux still holds a passion for industries like filmmaking, journalism and computer science. But he continuously worries about some of the basic necessities of everyday life, like money.  

“I have some savings, but I’m really scared to dip into it because I don’t have a job with regular income. I’m trying to eat as little as possible,” Lamoureux said. “I kind of feel hopeless right now. It doesn’t really seem like anyone cares about me.”  

Effective August 1, 2022, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that required all institutions of higher education to “designate at least one staff member to serve as a liaison to assist homeless students enrolled at the institution,” reads the first section of the bill.  

Nishia Ikezoe Heard is the senior director of student financial assistance, veteran services and scholarships at COD. Students receiving financial aid in a timely fashion, looking after veterans’ military tuition benefits and overseeing the requirements for financial aid make up some of her responsibilities. 

“I do a whole lot, and I really help to create a lot of policies for students,” Heard said. “My biggest thing is trying to remove barriers for students to receive their financial aid.”  

Heard’s office already had a policy in place meant to support students who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. Her colleague, Jenny Madsen, already being a point of contact for these students as a financial aid representative, was then appointed the role of homeless liaison. 

In Madsen’s most recent data, 110 students at COD either indicated on their FAFSA application or disclosed to faculty or staff they were homeless or at risk of homelessness. From both sources, all students were redirected to the homeless liaison, but not all students came in for a follow-up.  

“I think it’s unfortunate when students don’t follow up with us and don’t take advantage of the help that we’re trying to offer and the resources that we’re trying to offer,” Heard said.  

For Heard, to hear the hardships of those that communicate with the financial aid office can require a thick skin. 

“We in financial aid hear a lot of stories. We deal with students whose parents are incarcerated or suffering mental illnesses that are unable to support them,” Heard said. “We hear about people who are struggling financially, even though they don’t fit the definition of homelessness.  

“I’ve had a rep who was actually assisting a homeless student in [Madsen’s] absence, and she came to me, and she was almost in tears,” Heard continued. “She said ‘Nisha, if we can’t find any place for her, I’m gonna take her home with me tonight.’”   

Typically, students who are at risk or experiencing homelessness rely upon financial aid for supplementing the costs of academics. One requirement for a student to keep receiving financial aid is maintaining Satisfactory Academic Completion (SAP). Students must pass 67% of their coursework in each semester, sustain a 2.0 GPA, and not attempt more than 150% of what’s needed for your degree or certificate. The additional 50% accounts for circumstances such as when classes need to be retaken. 

In COD’s general eligibility requirements, “not attending classes, deferring grades, withdrawing from classes or failing classes” are examples listed as what could contribute to not following SAP. But when students are facing complex and challenging situations such as homelessness, maintaining SAP could be problematic. 

“Stresses from a job, or the stresses from not having a stable home to go to,” Heard said. “When we talk to our students, we’re always encouraging and pushing towards completion. We try to support students in a holistic way, and say don’t bite off more than you can chew.”  

If a student fails any of the SAP requirements, they keep their financial aid but are placed on academic probation. If the student continues to fail the SAP requirements after the semester of probation, their financial aid is discontinued. In this case of suspension, there is an appeal process for the student to submit an explanation about their incompletion of SAP. 

“If you have to slow down and take two classes or one class while you work other things out, or while you balance other things, it’s absolutely OK to do that,” Heard said.  

One housing resource listed on COD’s Homeless and At-Risk Students webpage is DuPagePads,  whose mission is to end homelessness in DuPage County. 

Lutishia Jefferson moved into the role of director for education and employment in DuPagePads about eight years ago. She spends a lot of her time at the Interim Housing Center at 1113 Butterfield Rd., just across the street from Yorktown Center mall.  

“It’s kind of my passion to help people find out what their true passion is,” Jefferson said. “How to get to that true passion and not just settle for less than what they deserve.” 

Helping clients gain employment, enlisting career coaches, providing workshops about interviewing, self-empowerment and personal finance are just some of the responsibilities under Jefferson’s leadership.  

“I promote the client, not the experience. I don’t promote them being homeless; I want them to be able to see that this person is a genuine person who has amazing skills,” Jefferson said.  

DuPagePads has built a partnership with COD to help further facilitate job solutions to those looking for employment. One career fair at COD sponsored by DuPagePads had over 25 employers with more than 200 individuals expressing interest for various job opportunities.   

“I’ve had so many clients who I helped get a job and now they’re in positions where they can help other individuals get a job,” Jefferson said. “When they say, ‘Hey, I want to be able to give back, so what can I do?’ It lets me know that my work encouraged them to be able to want to do that for other people.”  

Having more than 100 families with anywhere between one to six kids at this facility, Jefferson feels obligated to hold clients accountable for their follow-through in the program.  

“I always tell clients 90% is what you do, 10% is what I do. I can advocate for you all day long, but if you’re not taking the skills that we have, you’re not going to get that job,” Jefferson said. “This is only a temporary stage, so don’t use this as a permanent spot. It’s just the beginning and not the end.”  

Couch surfing and staying in hotels have been the go-to living conditions for Lamoureux. Most resources he’s seen thus far have been unappealing and lack enough reliability to get him back on his feet. But Lamoureux wants to give COD’s homeless liaison and DuPagePads a shot, as he sees promise in what both groups can successfully provide.