Group to hold a memorial for popular street person
Jimmy Williams, who recently died, had been a fixture at Connections for the Homeless. | Photo courtesy of Connections
Evanston’s Homeless picture
The city’s two school districts consider about 200 families in the “homeless,” category – a term which applies for those families who move around from relative to relative or place to place, and lack a permanent home.
Currently, Connections for the Homeless has about 120 people per year staying at the agency’s overnight shelter. The McGaw YMCA, meanwhile, houses about 120 people in the Y’s single residential units.
Another 350 people, some living outside, avail themselves of services at Connection’s Entry Point drop-in center.
Connections for the Homeless depends strongly on donations and volunteer efforts. For more information, visit the agency’s website at www.cfthinc.org~.
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:04AM
EVANSTON — Word passed quickly along the street Monday that Jimmy Williams, a longtime fixture of Evanston’s homeless community, died in his sleep over the weekend.
Danita Wilson, a friend of Jimmy’s, said she fielded calls from two people in Des Plaines, anxious to know when a memorial would be held.
At the Connections for the Homeless drop-in center on Chicago Avenue, a close friend of Jimmy’s had left the shelter in the morning with a Streetwise vendor, hoping to find out more details about the service.
A number of homeless people gravitated to Williams, who acted as a defacto counselor to many, Wilson said.
“You know what? Jimmy was like Dad to a lot of homeless people in Evanston,’’ she said. “Everybody looked up to Jimmy for advice and everything. He was a leader.”
Connections for the Homeless, the Evanston-based group that runs programs for the homeless and for those in danger of losing their homes throughout the North Shore, has set up a memorial service for Jimmy Williams and his many friends.
The service will be held at 9 a.m., Feb. 25, at Lake Street Church, 607 Lake Street.
Williams had been a fixture at Connections for years, using the group’s drop-in services, until officials helped him into supportive housing several years ago as part of the Project 20 program, said Sue Loelbach, the agency’s director of development.
The program seeks to house those who are most vulnerable to dying if they remain homeless, she said.
Roland Fouche, coordinator of Entry Point, the group’s drop-in center for people living on the street, said that when he first met Williams in 2007, he was in the midst of dealing with personal issues, including alcohol addiction.
Many people think alcohol addiction can be easily cured, but it can be “a lifelong” process for those dealing with it, Fouche said.
Fouche said the likeable Williams used the overnight shelter for a while but then became more or less an Entry Point client.
At Entry Point, clients receive the same services clients at the overnight shelter receive – showers, food, laundry and health services, “minus the bed,” Fouche said.
Entry Point counselors also provide case management, seeking to learn more about a client’s situation so they can line up housing for them.
In housing, “you have a number of factors working against you,” said Fouche, including landlords taking advantage of rising market rates.
“That coupled with personal issues, which might include substance abuse or whatever, we have to constantly strive to get housing services. It’s a very difficult task.”
Connections has forged ties with other area social service groups which work with vulnerable populations, including Thresholds, Trilogy and others, sharing information when an available unit comes up. The agency was able to find a single room occupancy unit for Williams in Rogers Park, several years ago.
Even in recent months when he was dealing with cancer, Williams, in his late 50s or early 60s, remained on the street offering a listening ear.
“This is a community that is basically shunned by the outside world, so to speak,’’ said Fouche. “They still have the same needs and wants of you or I, so they bond even more because they need that.”
“... Every time I would see him, despite all his physical ailments, he was smiling. I think that’s contagious for a lot of people,” Fouche said.
Williams was discovered dead in his one room apartment, after one of his friends from Connections asked that police conduct a wellness check.
Wilson said when she and other homeless people would sometimes gather around Fountain Square or the library, Williams would announce, “Let’s take a walk to the lake,” as a stress reducer.
“He touched lot of street people in Evanston,” said Wilson, breaking down at one point during her interview. “All the homeless people, people in general, looked up to Jimmy.”